MEXICO CITY HC "B — MEXICO CITY -- In a stunning turnabout, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has prompted the resignation of his party's governor-elect in a key central state, following widespread charges of vote-stealing and election fraud.
Ramon Aguirre announced his resignation late Thursday, just minutes after the Guanajuato state legislature declared him governor-elect. The resignation increases the chances of an opposition victory in a new election expected next year.
Mr. Aguirre said he was resigning "to preserve the peace and social order of Guanajuato" and out of "unbreakable loyalty" to the president.
A senior Mexican official said that Mr. Salinas made the decision last Saturday to annul, in effect, the Aug. 18 gubernatorial race to preserve public order in a state that had become badly divided over the election.
"The situation was becoming polarized, and it was clear Mr. Aguirre would not have much support in three of the state's largest cities," said the official. "We believe Ramon Aguirre won the governorship and that the irregularities would not have changed the outcome."
The resignation was the Salinas administration's clearest sign that it was willing to make amends after widespread allegations of fraud surfaced as the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) swamped opposition parties in state and congressional elections, winning more than 60 percent of the vote and raising fears that Mexico had returned to the days of one-party rule.
The PRI captured 320 of 500 seats in the lower house of Congress, 31 of the 32 seats up for election in the 64-seat Senate and all six governorships. The midterm voter turnout was in excess of 60 percent -- the highest in more than 30 years.
But coming amid allegations of fraud, the PRI victory drew editorial fire from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, two U.S. newspapers with widespread influence among Mexico's power elite.
The Times editorial likened Mexico to dictatorships in Cuba, Suriname and Guyana, while the Wall Street Journal's advocated new elections in Guanajuato to counter the fraud charges.
The biggest victors in the Guanajuato turnaround were the center-right National Action Party (PAN) and its gubernatorial candidate, ex-Coca-Cola executive Vicente Fox, 49.
Mr. Fox heaped scorn on the election results, which showed him losing to Mr. Aguirre, 626,436 to 418,324. He said that an incredible 72 percent voter turnout -- the highest in the nation -- suggested widespread vote-rigging. The state's turnout in the 1988 presidential election was under 50 percent.
Mr. Fox accused Mr. Aguirre of stealing more than 200,000 votes. But all but 30 of his 746 charges of vote fraud were rejected by the state election tribunal and the state congress, both of which are controlled by the PRI.
Mr. Fox said yesterday that he intends to run again in the new gubernatorial election, expected to be called sometime next year.
The PAN candidate had mounted a series of parades and demonstrations that drew more than 100,000 supporters, saying he would refuse to recognize Mr. Aguirre as governor. On Wednesday, party militants invaded the election tribunal as it was taking up his complaints.
Another big victor in the Aguirre resignation was the leadership of the PAN, who have generally supported Mr. Salinas' announced efforts to reform the electoral system, a stand that produced a major split with party militants who had rejected any dealings with administration.
The leadership, particularly party president Luis H. Alvarez, had little to show for their ties with the Salinas administration. In the Aug. 18 elections, the party lost 12 deputies in the lower house of Congress but picked up a Senate seat.
Indeed, it was felt that Mr. Alvarez's days as party leader were over unless he could show a victory in Guanajuato.
Mr. Fox has an excellent chance of being elected governor because of the notice he has gained in trying to overcome the old-guard PRI election machinery in Guanajuato. That machinery -- with its old-style chieftains and operatives -- received a demoralizing blow from their top leader, Mr. Salinas, when he arranged Mr. Aguirre's resignation.
Mexico has had only one opposition governor in the 62-year rule of the PRI. Mexican governorships are key positions for controlling the electoral process.