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Mexico Ruling Party Wins in Local Chiapas Voting


SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico — Despite one unexpected setback, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party maintained its traditional domination of the troubled state of Chiapas in elections for the state legislature and town halls, according to nearly complete returns Monday.

Voting was far more peaceful than any election since the Zapatista uprising in January 1994. In many areas, more parties took part in Sunday's election than in the last local votes, in 1995, and voter turnout appeared to be little changed, at about 45%.

The ruling party appeared likely to again win 18 of the 21 state legislative seats at stake, although one was in dispute. Voters in San Juan Chamula, a longtime PRI stronghold, refused to allow balloting. Chamulan residents, staunch Catholics, demanded the release of five men who were charged with killing an evangelical church leader in the town, a demand that the governor rejected.

State officials said they hadn't yet decided whether the failure to hold that local ballot would affect the district legislative election or the scheduled seating of the state assembly in November.

Apart from its rebuke in Chamula, the ruling PRI was on its way to retaining virtually all of the 84 mayoralties it won in 1995. It also won back the important regional city of Ocosingo, east of San Cristobal de las Casas, from the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, which is sympathetic to the goals of the Zapatista rebels.

The left-wing party still was en route to victory in about 18 town halls, the same as in 1995.

The ruling party again lost the state capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez, to its challenger on the right, the National Action Party. And the combined vote for left- and right-wing challengers in statewide municipal balloting neared the ruling party's total. In many communities, the two opposition parties split their vote, allowing the PRI to prevail and bolstering the argument of some opposition leaders that the only way to end the ruling party's dominance is to forge coalitions.

In several communities in the pro-rebel mountain and jungle regions of this southern state, people chose not to vote. But unlike past elections in which rebel supporters burned ballot boxes, the vote was peaceful. Rebel supporters heeded Subcommander Marcos' call not to interfere with the elections as a gesture to the conciliation efforts being led by civic organizations.

Francisco Gallardo, a leader of the Alianza Civica (Civic Alliance), a nongovernmental observer group, said there were no serious incidents of violence or alleged fraud, "and that is news, given our history in Chiapas."

The alliance had urged postponement of the vote because of recent flooding along the coast as well as tensions between Zapatistas and government supporters that have sparked violence in the past.

Gallardo acknowledged that the increased number of parties taking part in the voting suggested that "the people have strengthened their civic organizations. I believe this is an advance."

Still, the alliance and other observer groups argued that because of the climate of conflict in many parts of Chiapas, free and fair elections will remain impossible until there is a lasting peace.

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