Mexico's PRI Party Wins Big Amid Some Fraud Charges

"DURO! Duro! Duro!" chants a throng of 15,000 jammed into Les central plaza.Urging Vincente Fox Quezada, the gubernatorial candidate for the state of Guanajuato to "hang tough," supporters of the National Action Party (PAN) rallied Tuesday night in the first of three planned demonstrations of "civil disobedience." Mr. Fox and the gubernatorial hopeful for San Luis Potosi state, Salvador Nava Martinez, are claiming Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) stole last Sunday's elections by fraudulent means. Fox says he has lost confidence in the new electoral laws and so-called democratic reforms implemented by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. "The PRI's a criminal organization which acts ... to retain power at any cost," says the former president of Coca-Cola Company of Mexico. He says he will take his fight "as far as the moon if necessary." Fox and Mr. Nava may only have to go as far as the federal government. At least twice in the past, voting returns "cooked" by local officials have been overruled. After a noisy fight over fraud last year, the PAN got the mayorship of the southern city of Merida. In a 1988 dispute, a governorship (in Baja California) was won for the first time in history by a PAN candidate. Still, opposition parties throughout the PRI's 62-year rule have cried foul. "Rallies are fine. But Fox and Nava must have lots of solid evidence, documented proof, or they've lost this fight," says Jaime Gonzalez Graf, director of the Mexican Institute of Political Studies, a think tank. Reversing PRI "victories" creates internal fission in the party and costs President Salinas political capital. But it may be deemed necessary to bolster the credibility of the electoral process, observers say. Amid the hotly disputed Guanajuato and San Luis Potosi contests and sporadic protests elsewhere, preliminary congressional results show an overwhelming victory for the PRI.

PRI takes 40 Mexico City seats In the crucial capital, Mexico City, the PRI took all 40 of the directly elected seats in the lower house. The big loser was the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). In 1988, a PRD-style coalition got about 30 percent of the vote. This time its support dropped below 10 percent. Nationwide, the PRI won about 62 percent of the vote - just short of giving the government the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution without wooing opposition votes. Until now, to implement his programs, Salinas has had to negotiate with the leading opposition party, PAN, which held 101 of the 500 seats in the lower house. The PAN's seat count is expected to stay unchanged. The PRI triumph suggests Salinas may no longer have to deal with the conservative PAN, but can enact reforms by cutting deals with smaller, less-influential parties. Analysts say Salinas will now be able to pass legislation relating to the North American free-trade pact with greater ease. He is expected to move ahead on controversial constitutional issues such as reforming foreign investment laws opposed by the PAN, opening more farm land to private ownership, and restructuring the state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos. Salinas's high popularity rating in polls (coupled with his party's low rating), is also reviving speculation by PRI and opposition officials that the Constitution might be changed to allow Salinas to run for another term in office. Mexican law limits presidents to one six-year term. During at least the next few days, the PAN will be demonstrating and defending fraud claims. The Guanajuato results will be watched closely because Fox is considered to have a promising future in the PAN party. With about half the vote counted, the Guanajuato electoral commission gives PRI gubernatorial candidate Ramon Aguirre Velazquez a lead of 320,511 votes, and 231,271 for Fox. But the PAN preliminary tally shows Fox ahead by 6,600 votes. Out of nearly 4,000 voting centers, the PAN claims to have proof of fraud in 500. The PAN also claims to have video and audio tapes of PRI party workers intimidating voters, double voting, police complicity in ballot-box thefts, and other forms of "illegal electoral engineering," Fox says.

Some improvements noted Party officials showed reporters copies of tally sheets from three voting centers recording more than 1,000 votes cast, though electoral rolls list only 750 people. "We achieved some advancements in the new electoral laws. Without it, the electoral crimes would have been multiplied by dozens," says Carlos Castillo, the PAN official behind the Fox protests and a chief architect of the Merida win. PRI officials counter that gripes about fraud are the last refuge of a poorly organized campaign that fails to deliver votes. "The opposition has candidates. But the PRI has both candidates and a party," says Armando Sandoval Pierrez, Guanajuato, PRI state secretary. "What the opposition lacks is our institutional history."

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