TRAILING in the polls and complaining of insufficient electoral reform, Mexico's center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is preparing its supporters to foment street protests following the Aug. 21 presidential election, political analysts say.
``There are many radical groups not paying attention to the technical changes. They're following [PRD presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc] Cardenas Solorzano, who is systematically discrediting the electoral advances,'' says Jose Antonio Crespo, a political scientist at the Center of Investigation and Economic Studies here.
PRD officials say the advances are insufficient given the history of electoral fraud, but they deny there is a strategy to prejudge the results and destabilize the country. ``It is time to assist in every way to guarantee the transparency of the electoral process,'' Mr. Cardenas told a July 6 rally.
At the same rally marking the sixth anniversary of his widely disputed loss to President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Cardenas said, ``We are the force with the best capacity to mobilize ... what comes or doesn't come, depends on what happens on August 21.''
As an example of the PRD laying the groundwork for challenging the election results, Mr. Crespo cites the PRD rejection of an official audit released on July 8 showing Mexico's voter list 97.4 percent accurate.
The PRD claims 20 percent of the list is corrupt, not just 2.6 percent. It is questioning the methodology of the study done by US consulting firm McKinsey & Company for Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, the government agency running the elections. PRD officials doubt the impartiality of McKinsey because the firm's president participated in the 1982 presidential campaign for the ruling party.
But the PRD stands alone in its criticism. The other leading opposition party, the conservative National Action Party (PAN), last week produced its own study reporting the electoral roll to be 96-97 percent accurate.
Cardenas claims the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the PAN have cut a deal whereby the PAN agrees to recognize a PRI victory in August. In exchange, the PAN gets more state governorships and more seats in Congress - perhaps a majority in the lower house.
The PRD is playing on a popular perception. A poll taken last month shows 47 of every 100 Mexican citizens expect fraud. Only 28 percent expect clean elections. The poll of more than 9,000 people in 20 states was done by Civic Alliance, an umbrella citizen's group.
Mexico expert William Grayson agrees that ``the PRD is building a case to impugn the election results.'' But the William and Mary College professor, in Mexico for a political seminar, doubts that PRD post-electoral demonstrations will garner much support, particularly if national and international observers certify that the elections were clean.
``We'll see some turbulence,'' Mr. Grayson says. ``But there's a tendency to give more importance to the PRD than is justifiable. The PRD has been playing coffeehouse politics, they don't have a broad political base.''
Against the background of January's Chiapas uprising, political and drug-related murders, and kidnappings, Grayson predicts Mexicans will vote for security, meaning the PRI. ``The Chiapas uprising has hurt the left generally and the PRD in particular. The left is equated with violence and revolution.''
Crespo recognizes the apparent weakness of PRD support. But he asks, ``The question is: Does the PRD have the capacity to mobilize and create civil disorder?'' One indication of that support may come Aug. 6-9, when a National Democratic Convention is planned. The Chiapas Indian rebels have called for this nationwide forum on democracy to refocus the government on the needs of the people.
If the convention turnout is small, the risk of widespread post-electoral unrest diminishes, says Crespo. But he adds, ``there are campesino groups saying we should forget the elections, seize upon the momentum of the Zapatistas, and ignite a revolution. If the government response is repression, we could see a very dangerous situation.''
The solution, according to Crespo, is a preelection pact between political parties not to mount protests over the results.
One forum for such a pact may be the recently formed San Angel Group. Led by political commentator Jorge Castaneda and former PRI member Demetrio Sodi de la Tijera, the group of politicians, academics, and intellectuals began holding weekly luncheons in June keeping in mind three goals: ``preserving the peace,'' ``supporting legal, clean, and credible elections'' and ``promoting a national debate.''