In 56 years of rule, Mexico's governing Institutional Revolutionary Party has never lost a gubernatorial election. It does not intend to break that record by losing in Sunday's elections in the relatively prosperous border state of Nuevo Le'on, the country's most important industrial center outside of Mexico City.
If for any reason the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is proved wrong and its margins are not large enough to win without committing politically damaging large-scale electoral fraud, the vote could mark a turning point in Mexican politics.
Political analysts and diplomats have been predicting a PRI victory here in the state capital of Monterrey for the last month or so. Previously many had said that if the main opposition party, the National Action Party (PAN), were to have a chance of winning anywhere, it would be here and in the state of Sonora.
But analysts now say that the chances of PAN emerging victorious are increasingly remote. Still, the PRI is not taking any chances and is pulling out all the stops in its electoral campaign here.
These analysts say it is clear PRI, which can control almost any important event in the country when its sets its mind to doing so, has set its mind to winning this election.
Just how it will win is a matter of debate here. Critics charge that PRI will use outright fraud in order to win. Academic and other independent political observers tend to emphasize the heavy social pressures which the party can apply in the countryside and poorer urban neighborhoods which create an atmosphere in which people almost vote automatically for the PRI.
``PRI is going to win because the state government is not going to let it lose,'' says Mario, a middle-aged laborer who belongs to a PRI-dominated labor union. He adds: ``If it wasn't for that, PAN would probably win. It's not that people support PAN or think that it is a good party, it's that we are tired of the lies and the demagoguery of the PRI.
``The government keeps saying that things will get better but prices keep rising. PRI has many ways of pressuring people or of buying them off.
``People who belong to PRI labor unions, like me, or work for the government are afraid to vote for the opposition. People believe that the government has a way of knowing how they voted. Last election, some people who voted for the opposition lost their jobs. I am going to vote for the PRI.''
According to Juan Molinar, one of Mexico's foremost academics specializing in electoral politics, the PRI can still get a large chunk of the urban and rural poor to vote for it almost automatically by using a combination of pressure tactics: appealing to tradition, applying methods of persuasion, and instilling fear.
Whether or not the government can know how people vote, the fact is many Mexicans believe it can. This could influence the outcome of the election. It also appears to indicate how powerful the PRI is in the view of many citizens, and, therefore, how futile it is to vote against it.
PAN leaders are charging that PRI is padding the computerized voter registration list throughout the country. They state that almost all the people on the lists whose electoral numbers begin with certain numerals have false addresses. Out of an estimated 35 million voters in the country, as many as 4 million of them are false, these critics charge.
One PRI deputy to the Nuevo Le'on state legislature did not deny there were errors in the list, when asked about the charges. But, he said, ``These are errors on the list of registered voters which could happen in any part of the world. You can't blame the PRI. How can they [the opposition] say that the voters wrongly on the list will vote for PRI? That's how the opposition is, always looking for errors. They don't have a program of their own, they don't have any tradition.''
One diplomatic source stressed the importance of the Nuevo Le'on election for the PRI. He said that the party could not afford to lose one of the country's major industrial centers.
In addition, in a country where the president has almost kinglike status, this observer said that the gubernatorial election here is especially important because the PRI candidate, Jorge Previo, is extremely close to the President. ``If Previo were to lose,'' said the diplomat, ``it would be seen as a possible affront to [President Miguel] de la Madrid.''
This observer went on to say that the loss of any state government would be a great blow to PRI. The party sees itself not as one of many parties, but rather, as an organic, national party, a coalition of different elements making up the country. He said the loss of a major position like a governorship would imply that the PRI is not the organic whole of the nation.