Both Candidates Declare Win in Mexico

The Associated Press
Monday, August 21, 2006; 2:40 AM

TUXTLA GUTIERREZ, Mexico -- Two candidates declared themselves the winner of a tight governor's race Sunday in Mexico's poorest state _ the latest political battleground for the leftist party that is disputing the results of last month's presidential election.

Preliminary results in the southern state of Chiapas showed 14,470 votes separating leftist candidate Juan Sabines of the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and Jose Antonio Aguilar Bodegas of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

With about 68 percent of polling places counted, Sabines was leading with 49.2 percent, or 391,447 votes, compared to Aguilar's 47.4 percent, or 376,977 votes.

Both parties held their celebrations within blocks of each other, with hundreds dancing and cheering as if there was a clear winner.

Sabines, 38, a Lopez Obrador ally, had vowed to help stabilize the country if he won. Aguilar, 56, had promised to govern for all and "leave behind the retaliation and persecutions" of the current PRD-backed administration.

Mexico's capital and the southern city of Oaxaca have been under siege by political protests for more than a month. The PRD's presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has called for around-the-clock protest camps to try to overturn the slight advantage Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party has in the July 2 presidential vote, citing election fraud.

In a surprise move, President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, or PAN, withdrew its candidate in Chiapas and threw its support behind Aguilar. It was the first time PAN has formed an alliance with the PRI since Fox ended the PRI's 71-year hold on the presidency in 2000.

Some feared the Chiapas election threatened to escalate the nationwide political crisis.

"There's a lot of people behind both candidates. We're going to end up like Mexico City, the same thing is going to happen here," said Fernando Ruiz, 25, an auto parts salesman in the Chiapas capital of Tuxtla Gutierrez.

Many feared a loss in Chiapas by Lopez Obrador's PRD could spark confrontations in the state, the site of bloody political clashes including a brief uprising by far-left Zapatista rebels demanding Indian rights in 1994.

"Chiapas is a point of influence for other states, and for that reason we must be more aware of who we vote for, and we have to pray that everything turns out well," said Victoria Anta Carrillo, 64, among the first to arrive at the polls.

Polls closed earlier Sunday under a heavy rain in Tuxtla Gutierrez with no reports of violence, although one election observer said irregularities were widespread. About 1,000 national and foreign observers monitored the vote.

"We've documented many irregularities: busing in voters ... and other tactics to secure the vote" for Sabines, said Enrique Vera, of the Mexican Electoral Observation Movement.

Police arrested four men for possible electoral violations, including a prominent labor leader allegedly carrying about $5,000 in cash to buy votes for the PRI.

And a recording was handed over anonymously to electoral officials of an alleged conversation between Manuel Espino, the national leader for the PAN, and a local PRI official about money to buy votes. Miguel Ballinas, a spokesman for the PAN in Chiapas, said the tape was not authentic.

In the July 2 presidential race, PAN candidate Calderon has a slight advantage over Lopez Obrador, former Mexico City mayor. Lopez Obrador's supporters are blocking the heart of Mexico City in a protest demanding that electoral judges grant a total recount.

On Sunday in Mexico City's central plaza, Lopez Obrador, speaking to thousands of supporters, suggested electoral judges, who are among the nation's highest-paid officials, were under pressure to accept bribes.

"We know the magistrates are under pressure and that there are fountains of money and offers of public positions," he said without providing more details.

The Federal Electoral Court has until Sept. 6 to announce a president-elect or annul the election.

© 2006 The Associated Press