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Mexico’s ruling party doesn’t have much to celebrate at final rally

June 30, 1997

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The 24-year-old auto worker squinted in puzzlement when asked why he had shown up for a rally closing the campaign of Mexico’s ruling party, known as the PRI.

``I don’t know,″ Omar Oledo said after the event Sunday. ``The tradition is to be with the PRI.″

It is an increasingly endangered tradition.

The PRI _ the Institutional Revolutionary Party _ has held the presidency since 1929, but has begun to suffer losses in recent years in state and local races, and faces a possibility in July 6 elections of losing its congressional majority.

At stake are 32 seats in the Senate and 500 in Congress. Voters also will choose six state governors, 265 mayors and 227 local deputies.

The most visible contest is the mayor’s race in Mexico City _ the first time the post is being filled by vote since 1928. The leader of Mexico’s largest city had been appointed by the president, and had always been a member of the PRI.

This year, PRI candidate Alfredo del Mazo trails badly in the polls to leftist leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas.

But the PRI is still the best-organized party in Mexico, and it can still turn out a crowd. On Sunday it filled the historic Zocalo square to capacity, bringing 100,000 flag-waving supporters onto the cobblestone plaza.

The party long has won elections through a mix of patronage, intimidation and nationalism. Its colors are the same as those of the Mexican flag.

But because of electoral reforms, economic crisis and internal change _ as well as better organization among the opposition parties _ its support is waning.

Many people in the crowd Sunday said they were bused in by neighborhood groups or companies from outlying areas. Oledo came with workers from a Chrysler plant. He said all the workers at the plant supported the PRI, but couldn’t elaborate on why.

Some said they still didn’t know who they would vote for, and had come to accompany a friend. Those who supported the PRI sometimes said they did so out of fear of the unknown; the PRI is the only government they have ever known.

``Thanks to the PRI, we have continued working in the public streets,″ said 23-year-old Ruben Davila, who sells soft drinks on the street. The PRI long has protected street vendors from the complaints of shopkeepers.

``We have always supported them″ street vendor Marisela Monroy, 24, said of the PRI. ``The opposition might not give us work.″

The PRI played up such fears. Many of the pre-printed banners in the square touted a PRI vote as a ``safe″ vote.

``We are going to win with work and firmness and we are going to defend what we have built,″ del Mazo proclaimed in his speech.

The leftist Democratic Revolution Party of Cardenas held its own closing rally on Saturday, drawing a crowd of similar size and greater enthusiasm.

``I came to participate in the change that is occurring,″ said Alejandra Avila Gonzalez, a 32-year-old laboratory technician.

``A lot is at stake,″ said demonstrator Manuel Ceballos, 42. ``The main thing is that by Cardenas being in power, the establishment is going to be shaken.″

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