Opposition-party governor chosen in Mexican state

September 02, 1991|By John M. McClintock | John M. McClintock,Mexico City Bureau of The Sun

MEXICO CITY V — MEXICO CITY -- In yet another stunning turnaround, Mexico's ruling party helped elect an opposition-party member as interim governor of Guanajuato, a key central state torn by election fraud.

The election by the state legislature late Saturday opens the way for the center-right National Action Party (PAN) to capture the governorship in a special election next year. If the PAN captures the governorship, it would be only the second time an opposition party has occupied a state house since 1929.

Meanwhile, thousands of supporters of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) continued to hold protest vigils at 15 of the state's 46 municipalities. The hundreds of people who had occupied the legislature in Guanajuato had dwindled to a handful yesterday.

About 15,000 irate party militants stormed the PRI-dominated legislature late Friday and early Saturday to protest a decision by Ramon Aguirre to resign as the ruling party's governor-elect and to try to block legislators from naming an interim governor from the PAN.

President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Mr. Aguirre thought that the resignation and a new election would help calm a state badly divided over the fraud-tainted Aug. 18 gubernatorial race.

But the annulling of the Guanajuato gubernatorial election seemed to have an opposite effect, exposing the Mexican political system as controlled by the president and his party. This helped produce the unprecedented revolt among Guanajuato PRI militants who resented the interference of the president and party leaders in Mexico City.

Many of the protesters are state employees who could lose their jobs when the interim governor assumes office. Others are local PRI political chieftains whose power is now at risk.

The PRI bosses helped produce a voter turnout of 72 percent in the midterm election, arousing suspicions that there had been widespread voter fraud. In the 1988 presidential election, the state voter turnout was 46 percent.

Vicente Fox, the PAN's gubernatorial candidate, charged that the PRI had stolen more than 200,000 votes and vowed to launch a campaign of civil disobedience until his victory was recognized.

Mr. Fox, the 49-year-old former head of Coca-Cola in Mexico and Central America, now stands poised to win the governorship in next year's special election, since the interim governor will be from his own party.

Carlos Medina, the PAN mayor of Leon, the state's largest city and Mr. Fox's stronghold, will take over as interim governor Sept. 26, effectively assuming control of the electoral process.

Mr. Medina's election was briefly halted when the PRI militants took over the legislature's chamber. But late Saturday, 15 members of the 26-member legislature, including members of the PRI, reconvened in another room and voted him interim governor.

"This was an extremely bitter moment for many of our party members," said Luis Ferro de Sota, the state PRI president. "Our militants could not understand why they should give up a governorship that was won fair and square."

The events since Mr. Aguirre's resignation Thursday suggest that the Salinas administration made a deal with the PAN's national leadership, who had threatened to withdraw the party from national politics unless the Fox victory was recognized.

In the days following the election, top PAN officials met "several times" with Fernando Gutierrez Barrios, Mexico's top election official, said Fernando Estrada, a member of the party's national executive board.

"I wouldn't say it was deal," said Mr. Estrada. "Let's just say that the Salinas administration knew that Guanajuato was an absolute must for us. They knew what we wanted, what we needed."

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