Leftists Allege Fraud in Mexican Voting

The Associated Press
Monday, October 16, 2006; 5:50 PM

VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico -- Mexico's main leftist party on Monday accused its rivals of fraud in the gubernatorial election for the home state of a fiery former presidential candidate who made similar complaints after losing his own race in July.

Sunday's vote for governor in the oil-rich southern state of Tabasco was seen as a key test for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, which blockaded Mexico City streets and led mass marches after alleging dirty tricks had robbed him of the presidency.

The streets in Tabasco were calm Monday after a campaign that had been marred by street fights and arrests of supporters of both candidates.

PRD officials said they would appeal the results of Sunday's election, which showed Andres Rafael Granier of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, defeating Democratic Revolution candidate Cesar Raul Ojeda by 10 points.

A second count of vote tallies was scheduled for Wednesday, but it was unlikely to change the result.

Ojeda said Monday he will present evidence that his rival bought votes, overspent on the campaign and sent thugs to menace voters _ charges that if proved true could lead to an annulment of the election. He also alleges the PRI-controlled state police force arrested and tortured his supporters.

"Mexico is having a democratic setback that started in July and has been snowballing," Ojeda said. "Our society cannot set a precedent that torture can be used as a political weapon."

State PRI leader Georgina Trujillo downplayed the accusations as sour grapes. "Complaining is their favorite sport," she said of the PRD.

Lopez Obrador, who had campaigned heavily for Ojeda, waged street protests and declared a "parallel government" following his loss to conservative Felipe Calderon by less than 1 percentage point in the July 2 presidential election.

Before Sunday's vote, Lopez Obrador had called Tabasco a crucial battleground. "If the PRI wins Tabasco, our adversaries will laugh at us," he said, "and say that we even lose in our own land."

If the Tabasco election goes to the courts, it will be the latest in a series of disputed Mexican elections. The presidential race was decided only after the country's highest electoral tribunal weighed and mostly rejected Lopez Obrador's allegations of fraud.

In the days before the election, more than 60 people were arrested in Tabasco for fighting or carrying guns, machetes and baseball bats. PRI officials said one of their members was hospitalized in serious condition after being beaten with metal pipes.

Gangs of supporters of both candidates drove round in trucks carrying sticks and blocking polling booths on Sunday. Street clashes broke out in the state capital of Villahermosa and police fired their guns to disperse a crowd in the town of Macuspana.

Assailants in cars also fired shots Saturday at the houses of PRI mayoral candidates in the towns of Centla and Huimanguillo, state police reported. No one was injured.

© 2006 The Associated Press