Monitors criticise Mexico poll flaws

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WITH Mexico's election results almost complete, Ernesto Zedillo of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) edged over the psychological 50 per cent mark yesterday and may yet avoid being the president with the lowest vote in the PRI's 65-year history. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari won that distinction in 1988 when he scored 50.7 per cent after what was widely considered a huge fraud.

Despite his clear-cut victory over his two main opponents, Mr Zedillo was not quite home and dry for inauguration on 1 December. The legitimacy of his victory was called into question by the country's most-respected watchdog body, the independent Civic Alliance, which had 20,000 observers nationwide. The left-wing candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, trailing in third place, called for an interim president and new elections.

Civic Alliance's detailed report said that the vote was not secret in 34 per cent of polling stations. Also, in 65 per cent of booths, many local residents with valid voting credentials were told that they were not on the electoral roll. This was known as 'shaving' and helped explain the 'mad mice' phenomenon, where people were sent rushing around 'special' polling stations only to find these had quickly run out of ballot slips.

Another observer group, Global Exchange of the United States, protested outside the studios of the state television work Televisa, complaining that the channel had edited interviews with them, broadcasting only phrases that made the elections sound clean and cutting highly critical remarks.

With 90 per cent of votes counted, Mr Zedillo had 50.08 per cent in the presidential race, ahead of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos of the National Action Party (PAN) with 26.8 per cent and Mr Cardenas of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) with 17 per cent.

The PRI's surprising margin of victory, apart from the alleged fraud which is attributed largely to fear of change at a time of instability, meant it will continue to control the 128-seat Senate and 500-seat Chamber of Deputies. The PRI looks like filling some 94 Senate seats and reaching the limit of 315 MPs that any party is allowed under a complex proportional representation system. It will therefore be able to continue ruling comfortably and will need only the support of 17 or so other deputies for the two- thirds majority needed for any constitutional changes.

The rise of the conservative PAN may therefore have more symbolic than concrete effects on the PRI's long hold on power. From the PRI's point of view, the PAN's success was balanced by Mr Cardenas's slide. In fact, the presidential results were virtually identically to those of 1988, with the PAN and Mr Cardenas swapping places.

In post-electoral interviews here, Mr Zedillo appeared to retreat from earlier hints that he might include opposition politicians in his cabinet.

Mr Fernandez de Cevallos's comments suggest that he is unlikely to join forces with Mr Cardenas against the PRI and is more likely to back the policies of the ruling party provided Mr Zedillo pushes through his promised reforms.