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Sighs of Relief in Mexico As Election Chief Stays On

PRESIDENT Carlos Salinas de Gortari successfully side-stepped a political crisis that could have seriously damaged the credibility of Mexico's August presidential elections.

Responding to pleas from across the political spectrum, Interior Minister Jorge Carpizo MacGregor on Sunday retracted the resignation he tendered two days earlier. ``It's a relief. A huge relief,'' one government official says.

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An academic respected for his integrity, Mr. Carpizo's star has risen swiftly. In 1988 he was widely hailed as the best choice to set up Mexico's National Human Rights Commission. When the Mexican Office of the Attorney General came under fire for corruption in 1993, Mr. Salinas sent in Carpizo to clean house. Since January, he has held what many consider the most important Cabinet post: As interior minister he is responsible for public security at a time when the nation has been rocked by the assasination of a presidential candidate, the kidnappings of wealthy Mexican businessmen, a Mayan rebel uprising, and violent street battles between narcotraffickers.

Carpizo is also president of the General Council of the Federal Electoral Institute, the agency overseeing the most hotly contested elections in decades.

``The presence of Jorge Carpizo was the guarantee, the absolute certainty ... there would be no tricks, corruption, or dishonesty where he was concerned,'' wrote noted Mexican author Elena Poniatowska. ``Without Carpizo it would be difficult for there to be electoral credibility.''

The precise reasons for Carpizo's attempt to bow out are unclear. In his resignation letter he blamed ``diverse sectors'' of an unnamed party for fighting for its own interests instead of ``the interests of the nation'' in holding clean elections. His dwindling respect for one party was endangering his own vow to stay impartial, he said.

Some analysts blame the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for Carpizo's rage. The PRI is the only party divided into different ``sectors.'' La Jornada political columnist Ricardo Aleman observes that ``there exists a hard line within the PRI, particularly close to [Ernesto] Zedillo [Ponce de Leon, the PRI presidential candidate], that has opposed the impartial management [of the electoral process] by Carpizo.

But El Financiero columnist Carlos Ramirez believes Carpizo simply ``couldn't stand the pressure'' from the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and other political groups trying to push recent electoral reforms even further. PRD representatives say that the voter lists are unreliable and seek to reduce the number of voting booths to limit fraud. Carpizo counters that with elections only two months away, it is too late to be tinkering with the process.

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