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Zedillo Offers to Consult With Opposition on Policy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ernesto Zedillo, the self-declared winner of Mexico’s landmark presidential election, sought Tuesday to consolidate his imminent victory for the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, offering to meet opposition leaders and craft a common platform for his government.

As the final counting late Tuesday night showed that Zedillo would probably win with the PRI’s smallest percentage in six decades--and with independent reports of ruling party fraud starting to come in from the countryside--Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, the charismatic second-place candidate, did not reject Zedillo’s invitation outright.

But Fernandez, who as the National Action Party candidate had received 26.6% of the vote with 87.8% of returns tallied, called Zedillo’s offer premature and said it smacked of political gimmickry.

“In the first place, I have not received any invitation,” Fernandez, a former opposition leader in the Mexican Senate, said at PAN headquarters. “But I would like to respectfully suggest to Mr. Zedillo that, out of prudence and respect for the institutions that are judging and carrying out this process, that he wait to know who is finally going to be legally declared president in Mexico before extending these kinds of invitations.”

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The quasi-independent Federal Electoral Institute, which continued to count returns from the most remote districts through the night, is required to announce final results today.

The institute’s director general, Arturo Nunez, announced figures late Tuesday that statistically ensured Zedillo’s victory, probably with slightly more than 50% of the vote. Nunez also stated that the PRI was leading in 278 of the 300 legislative districts and that it would win a clear majority in the 128-seat Senate.

The only bright spot for the opposition was in Mexico City, where Nunez said the governing party was leading in just 40% of City Council races.

At a victory celebration cocktail party at a luxury hotel in downtown Mexico City, progressive aides to Zedillo cringed as they heard the latest figures. With such a large margin of victory for the PRI, several expressed concern that the 42-year-old economist would have difficulty pushing his promised political reforms through the party’s Old Guard--particularly in Congress.

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Some analysts have speculated that if Zedillo is confirmed as the winner, he may invite opposition representatives into his Cabinet--a first for a party that has ruled with an authoritarian hand since 1929.

Fernandez said he would not serve in Zedillo’s Cabinet but added that the 10 million votes he is expected to win should be represented in the new government.

“We are facing a historic opportunity to design and share a common platform of government in which we all recognize each other,” Zedillo declared Tuesday.

James Jones, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, issued a statement praising the three leading presidential candidates. He declared the elections “a milestone in Mexico’s progress in political reform and democratization” and a “complement” to the dramatic economic reforms that Zedillo has pledged to continue.

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But supporters of third-place presidential hopeful Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who was garnering 17.1% of the vote, could not have disagreed more. They marched again in protest of Zedillo’s victory, even as Cardenas, the leader of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, repeated his assertion that Sunday’s election was the most fraudulent in Mexican history.

It remained unclear how much weight Mexican voters would give to Cardenas’ claims.

International and Mexican monitors weighed in Tuesday with their preliminary reports on the election--most of them contradictory.

The first foreigners returning from remote polling stations--targeted because of their tradition of ruling-party fraud--brought specific, though anecdotal, descriptions of electoral violations. And it was from those regions that the latest returns pushed Zedillo’s total to 50% for the first time.

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Global Exchange and Grassroots International--two U.S.-based groups that were among the first foreigners authorized to witness a Mexican election--reported widespread electoral abuses by the ruling party.

The Civic Alliance, an umbrella group of Mexican pro-democracy activists formed to oversee the election, also released its final report Tuesday night documenting widespread rural fraud. More than one-third of the 2,168 precincts where it stationed observers reported that the vote was neither secret nor free, and other polling stations documented other abuses.

But 80 delegates sponsored by the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and the Carter Center in Atlanta offered a more positive view of the election.

Noting there were irregularities--including ruling-party abuse of state resources, biased media and “significant” disenfranchisement at hundreds of special voting booths that ran out of ballots--Paul Kirk, the Democratic Institute’s chairman, told a news conference that his group still had concluded that Sunday’s polls were Mexico’s cleanest and fairest ever.

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“We have not received evidence that would indicate the problems we have seen . . . have materially affected the outcome of the presidential contest,” said Kirk, former Democratic Party chairman, adding that his group had included Cardenas’ claims in its analysis.

Kirk stressed that the delegation’s seven-page preliminary report was not intended “to certify or invalidate” the election.

But the group did conclude that “this election represents a significant step forward for the Mexican democratic process.”

The group also stressed that the ruling party’s money and state powers gave it a big edge over the opposition, adding that monitors “noted with concern the large disparity of resources between the governing party and the other political parties.”

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Members of other foreign delegations, who monitored remote areas such as the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in rural southern Oaxaca, told The Times they witnessed that advantage--and worse--in stark terms at dozens of polling stations Sunday.

“There was no pretense whatsoever about fraud,” said Bernie Eisenberg, 60, a computer consultant from Mar Vista who spent Election Day at a remote site he described as “a PRI assembly line.” PRI workers were stationed at both ends of the precinct all day, he said, often marking ballots for peasants or joining them in the voting booth. When the counting finished, Eisenberg said he was unsurprised by the result: 600 votes for the ruling party, eight for the PRD and one for PAN.

“It was clear to me in talking to some of the voters and even the PRI officials that housing, electricity and jobs are all dependent upon party patronage,” he said.

Marie Kennedy, a lawyer and professor of community planning at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and a board member of Grassroots International, had a similar experience at 24 polling sites in the state of Oaxaca.

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At one station, she said, the “secret ballot” was so public that the curtained booth wasn’t used. At another, the local PRD poll watcher said he didn’t object to practices such as PRI officials stuffing ballots into boxes; that’s because the previous week he had received a death threat from a local party boss, warning him if he openly complained.

“In my opinion, it was a totally unreliable election,” Kennedy said. “My mouth was dropping open.”

When asked about the more positive assessments by other groups, Kennedy said she disagreed. Intimidation and fraud, she said, were typical election conduct reported by other delegates from her group in rural areas, home to about 25% of Mexico’s registered voters, principally Indians and peasants. “Even if it was only 25% of the vote, you’ve got a whole group of people who were essentially disenfranchised,” she said.

In the final analysis, though, Kirk said it was not up to the international visitors to decide on the credibility of Mexico’s vote.

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“The Mexican people are certainly sophisticated enough to decide for themselves,” he said. “All we are saying is that these elections, we believe, have made enormous strides forward to giving the Mexican people more confidence in the electoral process. Now it is up to them to decide.”


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