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Opposition Cries Foul in Mexico Elections

LOCAL elections in two key Mexican states were supposed to be a national ``laboratory for democracy.'' But a landslide victory by the ruling party has opposition parties declaring that massive fraud has made the experiment a failure. The Nov. 11 elections for mayors and a state congress in the state of Mexico, and in nearby Hidalgo State, were considered by analysts a crucial test of political modernization and election fairness promised by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

But the right-of-center National Action Party (PAN) and the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) say the election was invalid.

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``We are competing against the `perfect dictatorship''' says Luis Felipe Bravo, a PAN mayoral candidate, referring to Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa's description of Mexico's political system.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has ruled Mexico for 61 years, said its candidates swept all but four of 121 mayoral contests in Mexico State and 81 out of 84 mayoral races in Hidalgo. Official results will be announced Nov. 15 in Mexico State and Nov. 18 in Hidalgo. The PRD challenges the entire election. The PAN contests 50 of 55 races in which its candidates took part.

``The democratic transition has been totally blocked,'' charges Mr. Bravo, who challenges results in 150 of 358 polling places in the city of Naucalpan on the northern edge of Mexico City.

PRI leaders deny fraud charges. They say good political organization produced PRI victories, which in some key races received a five-to-one margin over opponents, a switch from the PRI's one-in-three vote margin in Mexico State in 1988.

``It makes us feel somewhat bad after having worked so hard to have our legitimate and legal triumph questioned in the state of Mexico,'' said Mauricio Valdez, PRI state chairman.

``They put into practice all the known forms of violating the vote, from the archaic and crude to the most sophisticated,'' said PRD leader Cuauht'emoc C'ardenas.

According to the opposition and other witnesses, PRI authorities in many instances intimidated voters, stuffed or stole ballot boxes, and threw opposition poll watchers out of the polls. They also say PRI supporters were transported by minibuses to vote at several locations. PRI official C'esar Augusto Santiago says that minibuses were simply used to transport voters.

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According to the PRI's figures, the elections amounted to total defeat for the PRD, which was formed after the 1988 presidential elections. The 1.2 million votes for Mr. C'ardenas in 1988 shrank to a total of 200,000 for all PRD candidates this year. The PRI, on the other hand, received 700,000 votes despite an unusually high abstention rate estimated to be 60 percent.

Political observers say the larger issue is whether Mexico can succeed in its shaky transition to democracy.

``It is evident the government has abandoned its promise of clean elections,'' says Jos'e Agust'in Ortiz Pinquetti, of the Independent Council for Democracy, a independent group pushing for democracy in Mexico. Mr. Ortiz says election objectives were ``the full restoration of the single-party system ... and the destruction of the electoral base and advances of the PRD.''

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