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PRI Appears Likely Winner as Mexico State Tests Democracy

Times Staff Writer

Tens of thousands of residents lined up in sun-baked plazas and steamy primary schools Wednesday to cast their ballots for a new governor in the first-ever competitive election in Tabasco state--a vote that the opposition calls the state’s “first experience with democracy.”

The ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, known by the initials PRI, appeared headed for victory amid fraud charges by the opposition National Democratic Front, which said many of its poll watchers were kicked out of polling places. Official results are due Sunday.

There were no reports of election-day violence.

The gubernatorial election in tropical Tabasco state, about 375 miles east of Mexico City, is the first since the leftist Democratic Front showed unexpected strength in the July 6 presidential election and emerged as a new national political force. The vote is considered a test of the ruling party’s will to compete in fair, competitive elections.

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Although votes are supposedly cast in 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.

Opposition poll watchers charged that the public nature of the balloting intimidated many opposition supporters. PRI officials maintained the vote was private.

In the state capital of Villahermosa, opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador charged that dozens of his poll watchers were ousted from voting sites by officials sympathetic to the PRI.

A spokesman for PRI candidate Salvador Jose Neme Castillo responded that the voting was fair.

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Voters appeared divided between the PRI and the Democratic Front in Paraiso, a coastal municipality of farmers, fishermen and oil workers about 40 miles north of Villahermosa. Hundreds of local oil workers have been laid off their jobs recently, 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.

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

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


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