Reports of coercion in Mexico's gubernatorial race

President's party offering food for votes, watchdog groups say


ECATEPEC, Mexico -- Battling to maintain control over Mexico's most populous state, the governing party has been testing the limits of electoral legality, buying or coercing the votes of poor Mexicans who are to cast ballots in elections for governor today, according to electoral watchdog groups and interviews with residents.

The state of Mexico vote is the country's most important electoral face-off before presidential balloting next year.

Waging a carrot-and-stick campaign that appears to be a rehearsal for the presidential race, the governing party has been handing out groceries and building supplies, and threatening to cut off subsidized milk rations to nursing mothers.

In interviews conducted in the final days of the hard-fought race in the horseshoe-shaped state that cradles the nation's capital, voters described numerous irregularities in what appears to be a systematic campaign to deploy government resources and influence on behalf of President Ernesto Zedillo's Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI.

The party's candidate for governor, Arturo Montiel Rojas, denied the accusations.

In one neighborhood, party leaders have been giving poor housewives boxes of rice, beans and other foodstuffs purchased by a government charity headed by Zedillo's wife, residents reported.

Some of the tactics might constitute crimes, although most appear to be abusive but not illegal, voting experts said.

Election watchdog groups and polling organizations reported similar irregularities in cities all across the state, a polyglot region with the country's single richest electoral cache, 7 million votes.

"This time we don't think the fraud will occur on Election Day," said Silvia Alonso Felix, executive secretary of the Civic Alliance, a private organization that investigated reports of campaign abuses in 36 of the state's 122 counties. "It's been forged throughout the campaign by purchasing and coercing the votes of the poor."

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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