Philip Bennett, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe
July 8, 1988
MEXICO CITY - Carlos Salinas de Gortari claimed victory yesterday in Wednesday's contentious presidential election, despite the refusal of the government and of his ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party to release results.
The absence by late yesterday afternoon of public, official results fanned opposition charges that the ruling party was maneuvering to steal the presidential and congressional elections. They are widely considered the most important in Mexico in nearly 50 years.
Officials of the ruling party, known as the PRI, attributed delays in the vote count yesterday to "technical" difficulties and to what all parties described as the heaviest voter turnout in the country's history. They denied allegations that voting had been marred by massive tampering.
But the officials acknowledged that the PRI had received fewer votes than they had expected. In his victory speech to party workers, Salinas declared that the comptetitiveness of the elections had signaled "a new political reality in the nation" and "the end of the era of a practically single party" system.
The PRI has not lost an election for a major office since it came to power in 1929. Its uninterrupted hold on power has been credited with preserving social peace and relative stability in Mexico.
Early vote tallies from Wednesday's elections had been promised initially by party and government officials for that evening. By law, official election results must be released Sunday.
The failure to produce the results contributed to confusion about both the outcome and aftermath of the elections. Although the country appeared to remain peaceful, opposition leaders said that they would call for acts of civil disobedience this weekend to protest what they have described as fraud.
PRI officials said yesterday that they were withholding their own vote count in order not to interfere with government tabulations.
"We don't want a war of numbers," said Otto Granados, a spokesman for Salinas. "The only authority that can release figures is the Federal Electoral Commission."
Opposition parties released their own selective and unofficial figures yesterday that showed Salinas losing both to Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the leftist presidential candidate, and to Manuel J. Clouthier, a candidate from the conservative National Action Party.
At a press conference, Cardenas presented totals that he said were from a sample of 272 of the nearly 55,000 precincts nationwide. The figures indicated that he had won, with 44 percent of the vote, and that Salinas had followed, with 27 percent. Clouthier had 23 percent, according to the Cardenas tally.
Clouthier countered with his own figures showing him in the lead, followed by Cardenas and then Salinas.
"The PRI lost the elections yesterday, my friends, and they are now the third political force in the country," Clouthier told reporters. "What we are seeing is the culmination of the most horrific fraud."
Clouthier, Cardenas and a third presidential candidate, Rosario Ibarra, met late Wednesday night with Interior Minister Manuel Bartlett to protest alleged voting irregularities, including the stuffing of ballot boxes. The interior minister heads the Federal Electoral Commission, which supervises vote tabulation.
Government officials maintained that the vote count was proceeding more slowly than usual because computers had broken down and because of high voter turnout. Opposition leaders charged that the government had halted the count after it realized that the PRI was losing.
"There is every indication that the results coming in were extraordinarily surprising and unfavorable to the PRI," said Jorge Casteneda, a prominent academic critical of the government. "How they handled the results is highly unusual in relation to what they said they wanted to do."
After hours of delays, the president of the PRI, Jorge de la Vega Dominguez, announced early yesterday that the party had scored an "overwhelming, legal and unassailable triumph." Without citing figures, he described the results as "a victory for the nation and for democracy."