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PRI Claims Victory in Mexico State Vote

Times Staff Writer

The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party claimed victory Wednesday in the vote for governor of Tabasco, the first competitive election in the history of this small, southern state.

The opposition National Democratic Front, meanwhile, charged that Tabasco’s “first experience with democracy” was marred by stolen ballot boxes and the expulsion of its poll watchers from scores of voting sites. The front claimed the ruling party, called PRI, bused in residents of the neighboring state of Chiapas to vote for the PRI.

There were no reports of violence.

The election in Tabasco, about 375 miles south of Mexico City, is the first in the country since the leftist Democratic Front emerged as a new national force in the July 6 presidential election. The vote was considered a test of the PRI’s will to compete in fair, competitive elections.

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Throughout the day Wednesday, tens of thousands of residents lined up in sun-baked plazas and steamy primary schools to cast their ballots for governor, mayors and city councilmen. Officials results are due Sunday, but with about a third of the ballots counted, PRI official Fernando del Villar, said the ruling party was winning with 81% of the statewide vote.

“Our candidate, Salvador Neme Castillo, will lead Tabasco down a road of more democracy and social peace,” Del Villar said. “The opposition did not achieve a relevant vote.”

He said the vote was peaceful and proved “electoral success is the sum of votes, not complaints.”

Although voting supposedly is secret, at most sites residents marked their paper ballots with black crayon in full view of officials and their neighbors waiting in line. In a few places, officials set a cardboard box on the table in an effort to shield the voters.

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Intimidation Charged

Opposition poll watchers charged that the public voting intimidated many opposition supporters. PRI officials said the vote was private.

In the coastal municipality of Paraiso, about 40 miles north of Villahermosa, farmers, fishermen and oil workers at the polls appeared divided between the PRI and the Democratic Front. Hundreds of local oil workers have been laid off their jobs in recent months, and many appeared ready to take out their frustration on the ruling party.

“Many people like me are changing to the Front because they don’t have jobs,” said Jose Luis Flores, 35, the father of five.

Falling oil prices, a budget crunch and the end of a six-year presidential administration have caused the layoffs, the workers said.

But even opposition voters conceded that their coalition probably was too new in the state and too loosely organized to win the governorship. Reporters observed many people marking their ballots for the PRI.

“It’s not the party, but the candidate I support,” said Marcos Ortiz, a PRI poll watcher in Puerto Ceiba. “I don’t vote blind. I prefer the PRI candidate. I am voting for the future.”’

Ortiz, together with a Democratic Front representative, helped illiterate voters mark their ballots. The two had agreed on the arrangement with the president of their voting place at the Refresqueria Viviana, on the waterfront just outside of Paraiso.

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In Villahermosa, opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador charged that scores of his poll watchers were ousted from voting sites by officials sympathetic to the PRI. He complained of excessive police and army presence.


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