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Opposition Party Wins Mexico Vote

August 3, 1998

AGUASCALIENTES, Mexico (AP) _ Mexico’s leading opposition party captured the governor’s seat in the central state of Aguascalientes today, a victory that gives it fresh momentum heading toward the 2000 presidential race.

More than anything, the gubernatorial contests Sunday in Aguascalientes and two other states underscored the growing competitiveness of elections in a country where for decades one party _ the Institutional Revolutionary Party _ easily won every vote.

``Mexico has made another important step toward democracy,″ said historian Enrique Krauze, an election-day analyst for the Mexican network Televisa. ``The process was characterized by stability and tranquility.″

With 79 percent of the vote counted in Aguascalientes today, Felipe Gonzalez Gonzalez of National Action was ahead with 53 percent of the vote, the State Electoral Council said.

The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s candidate, Hector Hugo Olivares Ventura, trailed with 36 percent, followed by Alfonso Bernal Sahagun of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party, with 7 percent.

``What we want for Aguascalientes is a transition that does not hold back its progress, that does not cause a scandal,″ Gonzalez told reporters after media exit polls gave him the victory.

Complete preliminary results in Aguascalientes, as well as in Oaxaca and Veracruz, were not expected until later today. The final official results for all three races were not expected until later this week.

The vote in Aguascalientes came a month after National Action, known by its Spanish initials as the PAN, lost one of its six governor’s seats. It was defeated by the ruling party, known as the PRI, in Chihuahua.

In Mexico City on Sunday evening, PAN national president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa opened a bottle of apple cider to toast Gonzalez’s apparent win, saying it ``advances and solidifies″ the party’s political position.

While the center-right National Action Party was headed for victory in Aguascalientes, the PRI was virtually assured the governorship in the gulf state of Veracruz.

With 54 percent of the ballots counted, Miguel Aleman, a wealthy businessman and the son of a former president, was leading with 49 percent of the vote. Luis Pazos of National Action trailed with 28 percent. The candidate of the center-left Democratic Revolution Party lagged behind with 17 percent.

Veracruz, a party stronghold, was seen as essential for the PRI. With its 4 million voters, Veracruz has the nation’s third-largest electorate and could be crucial in the presidential election.

Aleman promised late Sunday to create ``a social alliance″ as Veracruz’s new governor.

As elected leader of one of Mexico’s most important states, Aleman automatically would become a top contender for the PRI’s presidential nomination for 2000 _ even though he has said he is not interested.

The PRI, which long maintained its power through a mix of patronage, strong-arm tactics and cheating at the ballot box, has seen devastating electoral losses in recent years following reforms aimed at stamping out vote fraud and making elections more competitive.

The PRI suffered its worst setbacks last year when it lost control of the lower house of Congress and was defeated in the Mexico City mayoral race. But it won two of three elections last month, including in Chihuahua, where it defeated the PAN.

In the southern state of Oaxaca today, the PRI had a widening advantage over the center-left Democratic Revolution party for the governorship of the southern state of Oaxaca.

Nevertheless, Democratic Revolution did better than many analysts had expected.

With 70 percent of the vote counted today, PRI candidate Jose Nelson Murat Casab widened his lead with nearly 48 percent of the vote. Democratic Revolution candidate Hector Sanchez had 37 percent. The National Action candidate had just under 12 percent.

Formed in 1989, Democratic Revolution saw its first important electoral win last year when Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the son of late President Lazaro Cardenas, captured the mayorship of Mexico City.

It won its first state governorship _ in the northern state of Zacatecas _ last month.

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