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PRI Candidate Claims Victory in Tabasco, Opponent Disagrees - 2001-08-06

The candidate of Mexico's once all-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party - known as the PRI is leading all exit polls in the gubernatorial election held Sunday in the southern state, Tabasco. This result could have an important effect on the national political scene in the years ahead.

As election officials slowly completed the final official count, exit polls by various Mexican news media indicated the winner was PRI candidate Manuel Andrade. This would be the second time, in the past year, he has been declared the winner in Tabasco. A federal court overturned the results of the first election, last October, after opposition parties presented evidence of widespread fraud.

In an appearance on Mexico's TV Azteca Network, Mr. Andrade hailed his victory and thanked the people of Tabasco.

He said the vote reaffirms the decision the people made in October and, now that the electoral process is complete, it is time to begin work on helping the state recuperate from the turmoil of recent months.

But the turmoil may not yet be over. Mr. Andrade's main opponent in the race, Raul Ojeda of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution or PRD, says his party's polls show him as the winner. The PRD has already begun denouncing irregularities in the process, even though electoral officials say they have seen no evidence of serious problems.

If Mr. Andrade is declared the winner, it will mark the first confirmed PRI victory since the upset victory of President Vicente Fox in last year's presidential election. That election ended 71 years of PRI dominance and set the stage for challenges all over the country.

Political analysts say an Andrade win in Tabasco would also set the stage for a political comeback by one of the PRI's most ambitious figures: former Tabasco Governor Roberto Madrazo. He ran as a candidate in the first-ever PRI primary, but was defeated by former Interior Minister Francisco Labastida, who later lost the general election to Mr. Fox. Roberto Madrazo represents the more-populist wing of the party and is expected to begin a struggle to assume control of the former ruling party, now that his faction has won in Tabasco.