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DECISION IN MEXICO : Ruling Party Candidates Lead in Congressional Races

TIMES STAFF WRITER

As all eyes were focused Monday on the declaration of victory by Mexico’s ruling party in the hotly contested presidential election, the Federal Electoral Institute’s computers quietly--and slowly--were turning out another set of numbers that analysts said would bring about fundamental changes in this nation’s traditional, rubber-stamp Congress.

With 500 seats at stake in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies and 96 of 128 seats in the Senate up for grabs in Sunday’s vote, counting of the tens of millions of legislative ballots cast during the record turnout was running far behind the presidential tallies.

But the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was leading by margins roughly equal to those in the presidential contest in congressional races in all but two of Mexico’s 31 states and the Federal District of Mexico City.

With about 40% of the legislative vote tallied Monday night, ruling party candidates were ahead of their closest rivals from the opposition National Action Party (PAN) and the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) by an average of 20 percentage points in every state--except in Nuevo Leon and Jalisco. In those two states, the PAN was ahead.

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But the numbers, analysts warned, may be misleading when it comes to the shape of Congress, where a complex formula of proportional representation still could prevent the PRI from winning its traditionally huge congressional majority.

Political analysts and ruling party strategists added that, even if the PRI does win an outright majority in the Chamber and Senate, it cannot win its traditional two-thirds majority in the Chamber; the party would need that voting power there to change the national constitution.

“There is going to have to be a lot of political work in the house (Chamber) to build coalitions and consensus, if we are going to pass major legislation,” said one key PRI analyst. “It’s going to be a very lively Congress. We’re going to see a new trend toward the balance of powers.”

But underlying Monday’s tallies, there were several clear setbacks for the opposition--especially for Diego Fernandez de Cevallos’ PAN. Most experts, analyzing Monday’s trends, said the indications were that few voters split tickets.

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Baja California was a graphic case in point. PAN has ruled the state for five years, since the party won its first governorship there in 1989.

But all three of the party’s candidates for the Chamber were trailing PRI rivals in legislative contests there Monday night. Further, PAN appeared in danger of losing a Senate seat there, as well.

Analysts said the PRI’s strong showing in Baja resulted partly from predictable voter disillusionment with incumbents in a state plagued by underdevelopment and drug-related crime.

Paul Ganster, of San Diego State University--a Mexico analyst who served as an election observer in Tijuana--said PAN was disadvantaged by pro-ruling party media and the hometown pull of PRI presidential candidate Ernesto Zedillo; he grew up in Mexicali.

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But Ganster said he was convinced it was unlikely that the governing party would win an absolute majority in Congress.

“That will be very healthy for the country,” he said. “It’s clear that to govern nationally, the PRI is going to have to have the participation of the PAN and other parties.”

Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella in Tijuana contributed to this report.


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