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Election Battle Engulfs Chiapas, Mexico

August 20, 2006

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico (AP) _ A tight governor’s race Sunday in Mexico’s poorest state has become the latest political battleground for the country’s leftist party, which is disputing the results of last month’s presidential election.

The governor’s race in the southwestern state of Chiapas has been a fierce fight, with both sides hurling allegations of manipulation, vote-buying and dirty campaigning. Many feared that a loss by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, could spark confrontations in Chiapas, the site of bloody political clashes in the past.

Polls have shown PRD candidate Juan Sabines, 38, running neck-and-neck with Jose Antonio Aguilar Bodegas, 56, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Victoria Anta Carrillo, 64, one of first voters to arrive Sunday, planned to attend a service later to pray that voting takes place without violence.

``Chiapas is a point of influence for other states, and for that reason we must be more aware of who we vote for, and we have to pray that everything turns out well,″ she said.

Mexico’s capital and the southern city of Oaxaca have been under siege by political protests for more than a month. The PRD’s presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has called for around-the-clock protest camps to try to overturn the slight advantage Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party has in the July 2 presidential vote, citing election fraud.

The Federal Electoral Court has until Sept. 6 to announce a president-elect or annul the election.

In a surprise move, President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party, or PAN, withdrew its candidate in Chiapas and threw its support behind Aguilar. It was the first time National Action has formed an alliance with the PRI since Fox ended the PRI’s 71-year hold on the presidency in 2000.

Some, though, had little faith in either candidate.

``Neither one is going to make a difference in my life,″ said Pascuala Lopez, a Tzotzil Indian woman selling grilled corn on the cob in San Cristobal de Las Casas.

Sabines, who cast his ballot as chickens crowed at a nearby daycare center in the state capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez, said his victory would help stabilize the country.

``This election will be peaceful, we hope, and is going to contribute to the governability of the country,″ Sabines said.

But others cited problems. Miguel Ballinas, a PAN spokesman in Chiapas, said a polling place in the Indian town of Rincon Chamula only had been open for five minutes Sunday when local authorities announced that all had voted.

Indian communities often make decisions _ including who should be elected _ by consensus, but most villages still have people cast individual ballots.

Ballinas said three PAN observers were being held there by local authorities and were not allowed to see whether the community had stuffed the ballot boxes before shutting down the voting place. He said the party planned to file a complaint.

``Everyone there votes for the PRD; that has always been the case,″ he said. ``Someone is benefiting from that poll.″

On Saturday, police said they had arrested four men linked to an alleged vote-buying scheme in Chiapas. Authorities said the suspects were caught trying to give away 36 tons of construction material to Hurricane Stan victims who promised to support Sabines.

Aurora Guillen, a PRD spokeswoman, said the party had no ties to the suspects and denied it was involved in vote buying. She charged that the PRI was behind the accusations.

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