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Zedillo Awaits Confirmation of Presidential Victory in Mexico : Election: With 90% of returns counted, officials say it is 'statistically clear' that he is winner. PRD still refuses to concede defeat.


MEXICO CITY — Ernesto Zedillo, a once-shy shoeshine boy from Mexicali thrust onto center stage by an assassin's bullets in March, was all but declared this nation's next president Wednesday, extending 65 years of Institutional Revolutionary Party rule into the next century.

As the last of a record 35.4 million ballots were being counted from Sunday's election, described by many as a watershed of Mexican democracy, the quasi-independent Federal Electoral Institute began a marathon session Wednesday to confirm returns. The public process could take days to complete as opposition representatives and independent commissioners contest ballots from 96,000 precincts nationwide.

But election officials said it was statistically clear from the 90% of returns tabulated thus far in the presidential and legislative balloting that Zedillo had defeated his two leading challengers, winning just more than 50% of the vote. The PRI also appears to have won a large majority in both the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies and the 128-member Senate.

Sunday's elections, officials said, drew an unprecedented 77.5% of Mexico's 45.7 million registered voters to the polls.

Diego Fernandez de Cevallos--Zedillo's closest rival and a charismatic, conservative criminal lawyer--did not concede defeat Wednesday; no loser in a Mexican presidential election has done so this century. Fernandez simply said he would await final word from electoral officials.

But, barring proof of massive fraud, most analysts expected his National Action Party representative appearing before the 10-member election commission to eventually approve the final results. They would give Fernandez 27% of the vote and the PAN a projected 28 Chamber seats and 24 Senate seats, based on Mexico's proportional representation system.

Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, in third place with 17% of the presidential vote, and his Democratic Revolutionary Party, will receive 13 seats in the Chamber and nine in the Senate, under the commission's preliminary results. PRD forces were less conciliatory than those of the PAN.

The PRD representative at the election commission angrily challenged the legitimacy of the entire electoral process dozens of times Wednesday. The party was expected to reject any confirmation of results, which then must also be approved by another election tribunal.

Formal declaration of Zedillo's status as president-elect can be made only by the next Chamber of Deputies, which convenes for its first session Nov. 1.

Cardenas, alleging massive fraud, is demanding an annulment of the elections and a new vote nationwide. He called on his supporters to flood Mexico City's historic main plaza Saturday to protest the elections.

That protest will provide another barometer of popular support for Cardenas' claim of fraud. But a similar Cardenas-led protest Tuesday drew just 20,000.

On Wednesday, the office of the special prosecutor for election fraud--created in July as part of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari's electoral reforms--said it had received just 10 formal, documented complaints of abuses, adding that it is still accepting such claims.

There also was an attempt to sabotage the election at its very heart, Jose Carpizo MacGregor, the commission's chairman, disclosed Wednesday. Carpizo, who doubles as Mexico's appointed Interior Minister, said unknown forces unsuccessfully attempted to plant a computer virus in the election commission's central computers during the count. He said the incident is under investigation.

Mexican poll watchers and international visitors monitoring this nation's elections for the first time reported a range of ruling party abuses--from intimidation and ballot-stuffing at the precinct level to the misuse of state resources nationwide for electioneering.

Most incidents, they said, occurred in remote, rural areas that delivered the late PRI vote surge that pushed Zedillo over the 50% mark.

But most monitors agreed that the illegalities and irregularities they witnessed appeared to have had no major impact on the presidential vote.

There was, however, continuing concern Wednesday about the possible disenfranchisement of an unknown number of Mexicans, who were directed to special polling places set up for voters to cast ballots while away from their home districts. Many reported that the polling places ran out of ballots before they could vote.

This also affected a large number of voters who had official credentials but whose names did not appear on a new, $730-million registration list. They also were sent to the special polling sites, where they too complained of insufficient ballots.

The election commission is investigating if the names were deliberately excised from the lists--a process known here as "shaving" the vote--or if the problem was unintentional.

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