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Final Tallies Show Mexico's Long-Ruling PRI Maintaining Its Hold on Near-Absolute Power : Politics: The party of President-elect Zedillo will face stiff opposition only in Congress' lower house.


MEXICO CITY — The Federal Electoral Institute switched off its computers Monday, stopped answering dozens of telephone lines and shut its new multimillion-dollar headquarters, as the last of its official returns confirmed that the Institutional Revolutionary Party will have a lock on Mexico's presidential and legislative power until the end of the 20th Century.

The quasi-independent institute's final tallies showed that the long-ruling PRI will control 75% of the Senate and 60% of the lower Chamber of Deputies when Congress convenes Nov. 1.

The first order of business for the new 500-member Chamber will be to officially declare as Mexico's next president Ernesto Zedillo, the ruling party candidate, who, according to final returns that included spoiled and annulled ballots, won with 48.77% of the record vote on Aug. 21.

The bottom line for Mexico--after this election, which was to be a watershed of democratic change--is six more years of near-absolute rule by the party that has governed the nation for 65 years, analysts said.

For pro-democracy forces, which had mobilized unprecedented scores of poll-watcher groups, quick counts and vigilance committees for the election, there were only a few encouraging figures for the future: The 200 Chamber seats the opposition will control represent a significant increase over the last Congress. The PRI also will not have the two-thirds Chamber majority it needs to amend Mexico's constitution with impunity--an impossibility, in fact, under a package of pre-election reforms.

Further, with more than a third of the votes in the lower house, the combined opposition of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and the populist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD)--although on opposite sides of the political fence--will have a stronger voice; analysts said it will prevent Congress from assuming its traditional role as a rubber stamp for the ruling party president.

But it also was clear that conservative forces, either resistant or fearful of radical change, won hands down in Mexico's year of uncertainty.

That, perhaps, was the only clear conclusion as Mexico's political pundits, politicians and analysts attempted Monday morning assessments of why, amid unprecedented talk of change, so much of Mexico's political scene appeared to remain the same after the elections, in which a record 77.73% of 45.7 million registered voters cast ballots.

"Strangely enough, Mexicans have come out to vote as never before, to vote as always before," observed Gabriel Zaid in an editorial in Mexico City's respected daily La Reforma. "Strangely enough, the tenacious struggle of so many Mexicans to bring about change will serve ultimately to legitimize the fact that there will be no change. . . . How to explain the ferocious resistance to each millimetric advance of electoral reform? It is not easy to understand."

Zaid and other commentators speculated that the clue to that mystery resides in "public insecurity," which began Jan. 1 with an armed uprising that left 145 dead in the southern state of Chiapas, deepened after the March assassination of the ruling party's original candidate, Luis Donaldo Colosio, and has continued with grass-roots uncertainty about the economic effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But beyond the conservatism of fear, most analysts concluded that the final result did reflect a deep desire for change--but without risk. Zedillo, after all, campaigned strenuously on promises of extensive reform from within--he promised self-imposed alterations in a system that has rendered his party and the government inseparable after six decades in power.

Such promises, though, have become PRI traditions, analysts stressed. Further, at least one ruling party official appeared to dampen hopes that Zedillo will follow through on hints that he might include opposition members in his Cabinet; many analysts said this might be the only effective vehicle for reform if the PRI swept the Congress.

In the aftermath of just such a sweep, there was ample evidence Monday of deepening post-election skepticism among the Mexican media and the opposition.

Much of the cynicism focused on Zedillo's widely publicized pre-election vow to end the PRI practice of handpicked presidential succession, known here simply as "the finger."

A cartoon in La Reforma pictured a worried Zedillo, saw in hand, sitting on the tip of a giant finger, gazing with uncertainty at a dotted line just above the knuckle labeled "Cut here."

The opposition weighed in with even more force.

"We cannot prolong the Mexico of impunity, of fraud, of dishonesty," declared a frustrated PRD President Porfirio Munoz Ledo, whose party has asserted that the PRI won only through massive fraud and who called for a national campaign to document it. "For moral, populist reasons, we must now find truth."

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