Mexico's ruling party keeps power


Mexico City -- Two unofficial quick-counts of the vote in Mexico's federal elections gave a majority victory to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party last night.

If the projection by the Azteca TV network matches yesterday's actual vote, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will continue his party's 65-year dominance of Mexico at least until the turn of the millennium.

The Azteca quick-count, derived from about 1,500 polling places across the country, gave him 51.8 percent of the vote. It gave Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, the candidate for the National Action Party (PAN), 24.1 percent, and Cuautemoc Cardenas, head of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), 17.3 percent of the vote.

Another quick-count, conducted by American pollster Warren Mitofsky, gave Mr. Zedillo 50 percent, Mr. Fernandez 27 percent, and Mr. Cardenas 16 percent.

All three of the major candidates exceeded the vote predicted for them by numerous polls taken in the weeks before the election.

Mr. Zedillo, in particular, was never expected to gain a majority of votes running in a field of nine candidates. And it is not certain that he did. Some official results are expected today.

Mexicans turned out in unexpectedly large numbers in yesterday's elections for a new president and congress. Preliminary reports indicated the voting was largely unmarred by violence or serious irregularities.

One estimate by Radio Chapultepec put the vote at an astounding 39 million, out of 45.7 million people registered. It was unconfirmed.

Nearly all organizations monitoring the vote, and the local media, reported unusually heavy turnouts. They emphasized the tranquillity in all parts of the country as the voting took place.

Ricardo Adame of the Civic Alliance said shortly after the polls closed, "It looks very clean. Very few violent incidents."

Later in the evening, however, the Alliance began receiving reports from its observers of scattered irregularities. But by midnight (2 a.m EDT), the organization had not made a declaration one way or the other on the fairness of the election.

The Alliance is a coalition of 400 civic and human rights TTC organizations that has assumed the role of monitoring the elections by putting observers in nearly all the 96,421 voting places throughout the country.

It came into being in an attempt to halt the kind of electoral fraud Mexico has become known for over the years.

Even if the actual numbers of votes cast only approaches the estimates being tossed about last night before any official announcements were made, it is probable that more Mexicans will have voted yesterday than ever before in a presidential election in this country.

Which is not surprising. No election in this country's modern history has been so hard fought, and no election in the past 65 years seemed to hold such a threat to PRI dominance.

Should the quick-counts prove accurate, the threat will have proved as unjustifiable as all the expectations for widespread violence during the election apparently were. Which is not to say violence or massive protest might not develop after all the votes are in.

"It is just that Mexicans at bottom are a very conservative people and not eager for change," a businessman at Mr. Cardenas' headquarters said last night before the candidate arrived. He declined to give his name.

Should Mr. Zedillo, when all the votes are counted, come up with less than 50 percent, that would prove an unprecedented setback for the PRI. It would mean more opposition members entering the House of Deputies and the Senate, and put an end, probably for good, to the imperial presidency that has characterized Mexico.

Such an outcome would be what the historian Primitivo Rodriguez called, "The beginning of the transition to democracy."

A PRI majority of more than 50 percent, he said, would indicate massive fraud and trigger protests. But as of last night, there were few reports of irregularities at the polling places.

The major cause of confusion, and some disorder, was a planning failure involving the polling places for transient Mexicans. There are more than 600 of these spotted around the country to take care of people traveling.

Many, it turned out, did not have enough ballots. The Federal Election Institute underestimated the turnout.

For instance, in Aguascalientes a large number of people turned up at a polling place at a bus station, which had only 300 ballots, not enough for the crowd.

"There's so much promotion to vote, and then you can't," complained Norma Carrasco, when she realized she and three others with her would not receive ballots.

Shortly after noon, the angry voters were directed to another polling place called Francisco de los Romo, about 5 miles outside of town. But before they left, voters from that polling place began showing up at the bus station, saying they had been denied ballots and been directed there.

Carlos Bracho, a TV actor running for a Senate seat under the PRD banner was among the group, and he immediately accused local PRI authorities of dirty tricks.

"This is part of the culture of fraud," Mr. Bracho said. "People are tired of these problems."

Shortages of ballots at polling places were reported in other parts of the country, as well. Such a shortage triggered a brief demonstration in Guadalajara.

But electoral officials said the sparsity was intentional, that an excess of ballots in circulation could contribute to fraud. IFE declined to provide more ballots. An estimated 35,000 were unable to vote.

During the run-up to the election, the expectations of possibly violent demonstrations by the losers had grown apace. And there were sporadic reports of armed bands prepared to rise up in various states. But so far, no bands have shown up.

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