Opposition parties in Mexico rallying citizens in effort to enforce fair elections

August 25, 1991|By John M. McClintock | John M. McClintock,Mexico City Bureau of The Sun

LEON, Mexico -- Here in the shoe capital of Mexico, a 49-year-old boot maker is starting a revolution.

Vicente Fox is holding a series of "civic actions" to demand that he be declared the governor of Guanajuato, the state in central Mexico long dominated by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Mr. Fox, the former president of Coca-Cola for Mexico and Central America and now the owner of a company that makes cowboy boots, is likely to be declared the loser today when the state election commission announces the official results in the governor's race.

But through well-attended marches and the threat of holding a second, unofficial election, Mr. Fox believes the pressure will be too great for the commission and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to deny him victory.

Similar tactics caused PRI election officials to do an about-face in November in Merida, the capital of Yucatan state, where Mr. Fox's National Action Party (PAN) was awarded the mayoralty after surviving one of the ruling party's dirtiest campaigns, including 20 fraudulent polling places.

In Guanajuato, Mr. Fox says his campaign is questioning more than 700 of the 2,000 polling places.

Mr. Fox's figures show him to be leading narrowly, based on 80 percent of the vote, despite having been outspent 10-to-1 and denied access to most of his state's media. But the election commission's preliminary results show Ramon Aguirre, the PRI candidate and former head of the national lottery, to be far ahead.

"Every indication is that the so-called election reforms of the Salinas government are farce," said PAN's national president, Luis Alvarez. "We as a party have tried to play by the rules but it seems the PRI is back to its old tricks."

Like the rest of Mexico, Guanajuato's election machinery is dominated by the PRI, making it difficult for opposition candidates to win appeals or have victories recognized.

The U.S. Congress is watching the governor's race, along with last Sunday's other state and congressional midterm elections.

Representative John J. LaFalce (D.-N.Y.), chairman of the House Small Business Committee, has said the fairness of the election will be a determining factor in how Congress votes next year on a proposed free trade agreement with Mexico.

The election was important to establish the legitimacy of Mr. Salinas, who won in 1988 by the smallest margin -- barely 50 percent -- of any PRI presidential candidate in history. The PRI also lost its two-thirds majority in the lower house of Congress, ending the presidency's ability to win rubber-stamped constitutional amendments.

Thus, in 1988, Mexico seemed on the verge of a historical change that would permit the opposition parties to have real power.

This appeared confirmed the following year when for the first time in modern history, a non-PRI governor was elected to a governorship.

Yet now, the PRI appears to have re-established its absolute control by winning more than 60 percent of the vote in the country, according to official preliminary figures based on 80 percent of polling places.

Such an outcome, particularly in opposition strongholds in Michoacan state and Mexico City, "is totally ludicrous," said Andrew Reding, head of the Mexico Project of the World Policy Institute in New York City.

In Michoacan, the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) appears to have lost its 12 congressional seats, plus a senatorship. And in Mexico City, the opposition parties apparently lost all 17 of their congressional seats plus a senatorship.

The Salinas administration may wind up five or six votes shy of a two-thirds constitutional majority in the lower house of Congress, but the president will have an effective majority with such a close margin, said Juan Molinar, a political scientist at Mexico's national university.

Mr. Reding recently completed a study of the July 7 election in Nuevo Leon state and found widespread voting irregularities in favor of the PRI gubernatorial candidate. The vote-rigging system awarded more votes than there were registered voters, resulting in the need to annul 40 percent to 50 percent of the ballots at dozens of polling places, he said.

Similar vote patterns are being found in last Sunday's election. For example, the PRI claims to have won 76,203 votes in Mexico City's 24th congressional district, where 71,818 people are registered to vote.

A senior government official admits, "There may have been irregularities but they are not sufficient to change the outcome."

Mr. Fox believes otherwise.

Last week, the allegedly rigged results of more than 500 polling places in Guanajuato were shown to Fernando Gutierrez Barrios, Mexico's powerful interior minister and the nation's top election official.

It was Mr. Gutierrez Barrios who intervened in the Merida election to award the mayoralty to PAN.

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