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Elections in Chihuahua, Michoacan Test Mexico’s Reforms

July 11, 1992

SANTA ISABEL, Mexico (AP) _ Isabel Jacques says she wouldn’t have electricity if she hadn’t let Mexico’s governing party put up its green, red and white flag on her front yard.

But in Sunday’s gubernatorial election in this northern state bordering Texas, Miss Jacques said she would vote for the popular Francisco Barrio of the opposition National Action Party, known as PAN.

″They told us we had to put up the flag to get power,″ said Miss Jacques, pointing to a power pole in front of her adobe house on the foothills of Chihuahua’s desert mountains.

″But everybody here plans to vote for the PAN,″ she said. She and others say they’re tired of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party and it’s traditionally high-handed ways.

The party, popularly known as PRI, has been in power in Mexico since 1929, winning national and state elections, often through fraud at the polls.

The election in Chihuahua, Mexico’s biggest and wealthiest state, could result in a rare opposition victory. The only gubernatorial election the Pri has ever lost was in Baja California in 1989, to PAN.

Sunday’s elections are a test of the democratic convictions of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, a northerner whose election in 1988 was marred by charges of vote-fraud. This time, he has promised a clean vote and to respect the results.

Salinas has struggled against his party to keep elections honest, often without success. The effort is part of his program to modernize Mexico and clean up its image now that he’s negotiating a free trade agreement with the United States and Canada.

In addition to Chihuahua, where nearly half of the state’s 2.5 million population is eligible to vote, voters will also choose a governor in the Pacific coast state of Michoacan, a stronghold of the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party.

Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, Revolutionary Democratic Party leader, has charged that the ruling party has falsified voter registration lists and warned fraud could result in violence in Michoacan.

Liquor sales are prohibited starting Sunday, and army soldiers and police have been sent out to patrol the streets near polling places to prevent any violence.

In Chihuahua, Barrio, a 41-year-old businessman, faces the PRI’s chosen candidate, Jesus Macias, 42. The two are running close in the polls, while Jaime Garcia Chavez of the Revolutionary Democratic Party is seen as a distant third.

Both Barrio and Macias are former mayors of Ciudad Juarez.

By law in Mexico, the president and governors serve a single six-year term and cannot be re-elected.

In Santa Isabel, a rural town of 2,000 people, 50 miles west of Chihuahua’s capital of the same name, many farmers say they will vote for Barrio.

Traditionally, rural areas have been PRI strongholds, but that appears to have eroded partly because of the government’s dismantling of the ‘ejidos’ or communally held lands that were the backbone of Mexico’s 1917 revolution.

″The PRI is out for itself. They only help when elections come,″ said Ricardo Garcia, who sneaks into California and Texas each year to pick crops.

The PAN and the PRI have virtually the same political ideologies. Both favor strong private and foreign investment and the proposed free trade agreement.

Mexico, the United States and Canada are reported to be closing in on a pact to establish the world’s biggest trading bloc, with 360 million people and $6.4 trillion in total annual trade.

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