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In Mexico, Another Disputed Election

Times Staff Writer

The exit polls were inconclusive, but both sides claimed victory anyway. The official count put one candidate ahead, but by just a fraction of a percentage point.

On Monday morning, Mexico awoke to a new election drama that mirrors the divisions in the country’s still undecided July 2 presidential vote. The result from Sunday’s vote to elect a new governor in the southern state of Chiapas was too close to call.

Both Juan Sabines Guerrero of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and Jose Antonio Aguilar Bodegas, the candidate of a center-right coalition, said they had won. Supporters of the competing campaigns held “victory” celebrations late Sunday within blocks of each other in the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez.

With allegations of fraud dominating the race in the days before the election, Mexico faced yet another acrimonious election controversy likely to drag on for days or weeks.

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By midday Monday, with 94% of precincts reporting, Sabines led by about 2,500 votes out of 1.1 million ballots cast. But because paperwork from about 5% of the state’s precincts contained “inconsistencies,” their vote totals would not be added to the official tally until later this week, if at all, officials said.

The campaign saw the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, and the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, longtime adversaries almost everywhere else, join forces behind a single candidate in a bid to unseat the PRD from the Chiapas statehouse.

Aguilar Bodegas said Monday that the leftist state government in Chiapas had used its control of public resources to stage an “election of state,” a phrase synonymous here with fraud. He said the results in several districts suggested ballot boxes had been stuffed in favor of the PRD candidate.

“There are 25 precincts ... where they won 98% or even 100% of the votes, and where our total is only one vote or zero votes,” Aguilar Bodegas told a Mexico City radio station Monday. “On election day there were arrests [of campaign workers], manipulation and vote buying.”

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Two days before the election, four PRD supporters were arrested and charged with doling out aid packets for recovery from last year’s Hurricane Stan in exchange for recipients’ promise to vote for their candidate.

Sabines said he would welcome a recount of the ballots if his opponents wanted one. “Our victory is assured,” he said, adding that most of the uncounted ballots were in Tuxtla Gutierrez, a stronghold of the PRD.

Accusations of electoral shenanigans were common, and largely uninvestigated, during the 71-year reign of the PRI, particularly in the hinterlands. But Mexico now has more means, and political will, to investigate such accusations.

The election more than likely will wind up before Mexico’s Federal Electoral Tribunal, the same seven-judge panel that is meeting behind closed doors this week to decide whether PAN candidate Felipe Calderon or Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD won the presidential vote.

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Calderon led Lopez Obrador by 0.58 percentage points in the initial final tally. The electoral tribunal this month ordered a partial recount of about a tenth of the 41 million votes cast. The tribunal could call for further recounts, or annul the results and order a new presidential election for next year. It has until Sept. 6 to decide.

If the court validates a Calderon victory, he would be inaugurated as Mexico’s next president on Dec. 1.

On Monday, supporters of Lopez Obrador loosened, if only slightly, the grip they’ve kept on Mexico City’s traffic network since July 30. The leftists have been barricading Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s central boulevard, in a bid to pressure the tribunal to recount all presidential ballots.

Just before dawn Monday, Lopez Obrador’s supporters allowed traffic to begin flowing again through a few major intersections that cut through Paseo de la Reforma. PRD officials said the move was an act of “compassion” meant to alleviate the gridlock on the day most Mexican students returned to school.

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But there has been no letup in Lopez Obrador’s verbal attacks, which continue to assail Calderon and President Vicente Fox, also of the PAN, charging both men with engaging in a conspiracy to deprive him of victory.

Last week, Lopez Obrador’s allegations of a plot against his candidacy were boosted by the release of a video in which a jailed Argentine entrepreneur said top officials in the Fox administration offered him money to implicate PRD officials in a bribery scandal.

In a speech Sunday, Lopez Obrador suggested that Calderon’s backers might try to bribe the electoral tribunal.

“We know that the judges are under enormous pressure and that it’s not too much to suppose that loads of money and new job offers will be coming their way,” Lopez Obrador said.

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PAN officials quickly called the statement “one more slander ... from a candidate who blames everyone for his electoral defeat, even though he has only himself to blame.”

On Monday morning, there were new signs of spreading instability in another hot spot of political conflict, the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Striking teachers and other protesters armed with metal pipes and wooden clubs seized 12 private radio stations. Hours earlier, unidentified gunmen had opened fire on a group of striking teachers who had occupied a public radio station since Aug. 1.

The teachers are demanding wage increases and the resignation of Gov. Ulises Ruiz of the PRI.

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