MEXICO CITY -- The PRI apparently won again.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the longest ruling party in the world, is likely to continue to govern this land of 85 million people at least to the end of this century.
The official count in Sunday's federal elections all but confirms the victory in the presidential race of Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon.
But his victory will have been achieved with possibly the lowest vote for a PRI presidential candidate in history.
That has given some cause to hope that a pluralist democracy may really be in Mexico's future.
Last night, with almost half of the paper ballots tallied, Newsday reported that Mr. Zedillo was receiving 48 percent of the vote; Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, candidate of the center-right National Action Party, was getting 30 percent; and Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Partywas getting 16 percent.
The PRI has never lost a presidential election, but neither has it ever won with less than 50 percent of the vote. Indeed, the combined percentages of the two major opposition candidates nearly equaled the percentage received by Mr. Zedillo.
Mr. Cardenas disputed the outcome, denounced it as a fraud in a rally yesterday in the Zocalo, Mexico City's central plaza. He called for similar rallies all over the country.
Mr. Fernandez conceded early yesterday morning, but not happily.
"Once again we have witnessed with pain and embarrassment the multimillion dollar overspending for the campaign of the official candidate. And once again we have witnessed its humiliating influence, with threats and pressure."
Irregularities were reported at a number of the country's 96,421 polling places, nearly all of which were monitored by official observers and volunteers from the Civic Alliance, the largest of various volunteer groups formed to ensure a clean election.
The alliance was taking the irregularities seriously. As reports of them poured into its downtown headquarters in the early yesterday morning the director, Sergio Aguayo, was quoted as saying, "I want to announce that the quality of the election is in question."
The irregularities included voting places opening late, people voting more than once as evidenced by the ink on their fingers, people unable to vote because their names were not on the registers, and not enough ballots (causing people to be turned away).
Yesterday afternoon, however, Gina Batista, an alliance spokeswoman, said the incidents were not numerous enough to alter the outcome of the election.
Almost none of the expected violence or destructive protest that had caused many people to hoard food materialized.
The turnout of more than 70 percent was the largest in Mexico's history. It brought effusive congratulations from foreign observers invited to witness the election.
Sen. John S. McCain, R-Ariz., who was with a high profile group called the International Delegation to the Mexican Elections, said: "I want to emphasize that 70 percent is a much higher turnout than we get in the United States."
He said he believed that the outcome "assured the creation of a viable three-party system in Mexico, now that more opposition parties chosen by nearly half the electorate would be taking seats" in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Mexican Congress.
As the PRI savored its victory, some such as Emilio Guevara expressed their unhappiness. Mr. Guevara, 75, is weary of the fact that the PRI has been in power in Mexico since he was 10 years old.
To express his frustration at the outcome of the election, he went out to the Zocalo to join the Cardenas rally.
"It is just a lie what the newspapers say, that Zedillo won democratically," he said. "It is a fraud, another fraud."
As he spoke, a parade of about 3,000 equally dissatisfied Mexicans marched around the plaza waving PRD flags and chanting familiar political mantras.
Mr. Zedillo, the 43-year-old who will lead Mexico to the brink of the next millennium, has been described as an "uncharismatic bureaucratic," among other things.
He was hardly known at all among those who follow Mexico's tortuous political game.
Mr. Zedillo was tapped to run for president by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, after his first choice, Luis Donaldo Colosio, was assassinated March 23.
Mr. Zedillo is known as a technocrat, which means he has never held elective office. He has a doctorate in economics from Yale, and will almost certainly continue the free enterprise economic policies of President Salinas.
One of his successes in government was creating an agency to help bankrupt companies restructure to avoid complete dissolution.
It was very effective in the economic crisis years of the mid-1980s and saved a lot of jobs.
One well-known failure came when he was the education secretary.
He hired a group of historians and authors to rewrite the history books used in the schools, which reportedly were full of rhetoric redolent of revolutionary times.
The rewrite was needed, said one of his critics. "But he had it done without consulting anybody," he said. "He just selected a group on his own and had them do it. He asked no questions."
The rewrite turned out to be a failure, full of errors and language incomprehensible to children. The new books eventually were withdrawn, but, to his critic, the episode revealed something of Mr. Zedillo's character, not the best trait for a political leader.
"He doesn't consult," he said. "He doesn't ask questions."