Early election results indicate a clear victory for Ernesto Zedillo, a Yale-educated economist who promised to continue Mexico's free-market reforms, and the candidate of the party that has ruled Mexico for 65 years. Although there were some reports of voter fraud and irregularities, the Sunday election was largely peaceful, and it does not appear that irregularities were significant enough to alter the outcome.
Authorities said they ran out of ballots at many of the 687 special polling sites nationwide for people voting outside their home districts. Ironically, the shortage was caused by a measure that limited these sites to 300 ballots each to prevent multiple voting.Allegedly, the ballot shortage affected less than one percent of the 96,000 polling stations and is not likely to tarnish the unprecedented efforts to hold the first presidential election without major election fraud. The presence of more than 82,000 national and foreign observers monitoring the elections did not hurt.
Most estimates have Zedillo, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, with at least 50 percent of the vote, when only a plurality was needed to elect. The second running candidate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos of the conservative National Action Party, garnered less than half the votes of Zedillo.
Although Zedillo ran a positive, progressive campaign, promising an increase in democratic procedures, the most important sign that things were working was the estimated 45.7 million people, approximately 75 percent of eligible voters who actually turned out to cast ballots, as compared to the last election, in 1988, when the figure was a much lower 50 percent.
While exit polls indicated Zedillo was likely to win, the election was an important test of Mexico's stability after an Indian uprising in January in the southernmost Chiapas state, and the assassination of a popular presidential candidate in March in Tijuana.
It is also highly encouraging that the election results were announced so early, as compared with 1988, when it took a week to figure out who had won. Evidently, election reforms paid off.
In this race, $730 million was spent to overhaul voter rolls and issue plastic identification cards with photographs. A special deputy attorney general was even named to prosecute election-related fraud.
The victory gives the ruling PRI another six years in office. Mexicans also elected a 500-member Chamber of Deputies and two-thirds of a 128-seat Senate.
Only time will tell whether promised social and political reform under Zedillo will match the economic reforms already begun under the current president.
Zedillo was little known at the beginning of the campaign, but his unassuming background filled the bill. He was born in Mexicali, the son of a struggling electrician, and raised in a poor neighborhood just yards from the California border. He worked in his early years as a shoeshine boy.
Throughout the campaign, he never forgot his humble beginnings.
It is to be hoped that Mexico will become more stable under a president who appears to genuinely believe in carving out a more democratic society with more social justice and less corruption and fraud.