- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2000

MEXICO CITY Opposition candidate Vicente Fox won Mexico's presidential elections yesterday, ending the ruling party's 71-year lock on the presidency, President Ernesto Zedillo said.
The victory was almost unthinkable for many in Mexico, where the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is almost synonymous with the government and even the nation itself to millions of supporters and detractors alike.
Election officials' preliminary results "are sufficient and trustworthy enough to say that the next president of the republic will be Vicente Fox," Mr. Zedillo said in a nationally televised statement. "I have telephoned him to express my sincere congratulations."
Exit polls earlier by Mexican television stations and U.S. polling companies had given Mr. Fox, of the conservative National Action Party, a lead of between 6 and 9 percentage points over the PRI's Francisco Labastida.
The official count was still fragmentary, with only 9 percent of polling places reporting most of them in urban areas where Mr. Fox is strongest. He led 48.3 percent to 31.6 percent.
Moments after the exit polls were released, Mr. Fox assured Mexicans there would be a calm transition if he won.
"From today forward, we need to unite… . We have to work together to make Mexico the great country we have all dreamed of," he said. He called yesterday a "historic day for our country."
The third-place candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, also conceded the election to Mr. Fox in a speech before supporters.
"In this election, we have begun dismantling the regime of the official party," Mr. Cardenas said.
People began gathering beneath the gilded angel of Mexico City's Independence Monument as the polls poured in, all favoring Mr. Fox.
"He is going to do away with the bad governments, the narco-politicians, dishonest people," said Miguel Morlet, a 60-year-old hotel administrator.
Nearby, celebrating youths waved the blue and white National Action flag while plastic trumpets blared amid chants of "Yes you could." for the rapidly gathering televison cameras.
An exit poll by the Televisa television network showed Mr. Fox with 44 percent and Mr. Labastida with 38 percent. Another poll by the rival TV Azteca network gave Mr. Fox 38.8 percent to Mr. Labastida's 30.5 percent, and one by the Reforma newspaper group showed Mr. Fox with a 44 percent to 36 percent edge.
An exit poll by the Chamber of the Radio and Television Industry had Mr. Fox ahead 43-34 and a poll by two U.S. polling firms showed him ahead 42-36. Leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was a distant third in all the polls.
The polls by Televisa and the U.S. firms had a margin of error of one percentage point; Azteca's was 1.5 and the others didn't give margins of error.
The vote was the first in more than a century in which the outcome wasn't clear beforehand. Despite hundreds of allegations of pressure and vote-buying most perpetrated by the ruling party the elections were widely seen as Mexico's fairest ever.
"It could be that we make history today," said Rebeca Meza Oliva, a 45-year-old housewife waiting in line to vote for Mr. Fox.
Beginning early in the morning, long lines formed at voting booths, evidence of a heavy turnout. Frustrated voters clashed with election workers in Mexico City when some booths for people casting ballots outside their home districts ran out of absentee ballots shortly after noon with hundreds still in line.
The PRI also appeared to have lost three key local races, according to exit polls by the television networks.
The exit polls showed the leftist Democratic Revolution Party holding onto Mexico City's mayorship with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador well ahead of his rivals.
In Morelos state, just south of the capital, the polls had National Action capturing the governorship from the PRI, and they had National Action holding Mr. Fox's home state of Guanajuato.
Mr. Fox is a former Coca-Cola executive and rancher who was elected governor of central Guanajuato in 1995.
He pledges to halt corruption, jump-start the economy with foreign investment and jobs programs and nearly double spending for public education. He espouses an agreement with the United States that would let workers cross the border freely.
The ruling party standard-bearer, Mr. Labastida ran a largely traditional campaign after a landslide victory in the party's first presidential primary in November.
He promised more aid for the countryside, more resources for public education and more attention to the poor. Mr. Labastida, a former governor of Sinaloa state, was a top Cabinet secretary before the campaign and said he would continue many of President Ernesto Zedillo's policies.
Mr. Cardenas, a veteran leftist leader, was in his third presidential campaign. Many Mexicans believe he won the 1988 elections, only to be cheated out of a victory by fraud.
Three other candidates were on the ballot, although one told his supporters in the weeks before the election to vote for Mr. Fox.
The campaign was remarkably fair by Mexican standards and opposition parties had unprecedented access to advertising and news coverage.
A record 10,000 local poll watchers and 860 foreign observers were at the polling places yesterday to prevent fraud.
Observer groups and opposition parties charged that local PRI officials gave gifts in return for promised votes or warned poor people government aid would be cut off if they backed the opposition.
But the head of the Federal Electoral Institute, Jose Woldenberg, said in the early afternoon that problems were the exception. He said his workers "tell us we are experiencing exemplary elections."
While most voting seemed trouble-free yesterday, the Fox campaign on Saturday released a 200-page list of complaints that Fox spokeswoman Marta Sahagun said demonstrated that the elections "are already tainted."
But not all voters were bothered.
Cirilo Mejia, a 66-year-old lottery ticket salesman, said the PRI gift-giving had been more widespread than ever this year and that suited him just fine.
"They gave me lots of presents: pens, caps, even a blanket. I'm going to vote for the one they recommended Labastida," he said, adding that "they" were government leaders.
"Why fool ourselves? The one they recommended will win."

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