Presidential candidate Ernesto Zedillo of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party held at least a psychological edge over eight other candidates as voting concluded Saturday night in what officials predicted would be the cleanest elections in Mexican history.
A Zedillo win, if it materializes, would extend his party's 65-year domination for another six years to the year 2000. The new chief executive takes office Dec. 1, succeeding President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.In the days and hours leading up to the election, pollsters had named Zedillo, a Yale University-trained economist, the front-runner. National Action Party candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos was also expected to make a strong showing, along with Democratic Revolution Party candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. Six other candidates, including two women, were also running.
Mexico's 45.7 million eligible voters had streamed to neighborhood polls beginning at 8 a.m. and in some cases waited hours to cast their ballots. Many were turned away because they lacked the new tamper-proof voter registration cards that were part of a multipronged strategy to enhance ballot security. Others, discouraged by long lines, wandered away without voting.
Zedillo, who took his place at the back of a long line at his polling place in the swanky San Jeronimo neighborhood, emerged confident of victory.
"Mexico has prepared a long time for this election and I'm sure it is being conducted in the manner that all Mexicans wanted - in peace, in order and with respect for the people's will," he told reporters.
Officials said they would not announce any trends until at least 15 percent of the votes were counted, probably early Monday. The final count won't be certified until Wednesday.
Thirteen nongovernmental groups were given access to the vote counts in some 2,500 bellwether precincts, from which they were preparing tentative projections. None was immediately available. The ruling Institutionaly Revolutionary Party's candidates have won every presidential election since 1929, although it had a close call in 1988, when Salinas prevailed over the left-leaning Cardenas with just 50.1 percent of the vote - the lowest victory margin in the PRI's history.
That result, widely viewed as rigged, led to sweeping changes in electoral law that included creation of a new list of eligible voters, voter registration cards with voters' photographs and thumbprints on them and creation of a quasi-governmental entity called the Federal Electoral Institute to assume oversight of the electoral process.
To acquaint voters with the new procedures, the institute waged an intensive public relations campaign that included lengthy infomercials with actors and announcers explaining the procedures. The programs showed where to vote, what to expect at polling sites, what the ballots looked like and how to deal with problems.
Voters were also choosing a new congress whose size is being expanded to guarantee more opposition party representation.