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Mexico's Ruling Party Faces Defeats in Morelos Elections

By Mark Fineman
Los Angeles Times
MEXICO CITY

The party that has governed Mexico for nearly seven decades was headed for several bitter defeats Monday in elections in the state of Morelos, setting the stage for a series of midterm polls expected to redraw Mexico's political landscape this year.

With more than 80 percent of the vote counted in the strategic state near the nation's capital, election officials said the results of Sunday's voting show the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, losing key mayoral contests in major cities. The PRI also appears it will lose its majority in the state legislature for the first time in the 68 years it has ruled most of this nation.

State election board member Humberto Valverde Prado said the municipal tallies will not be complete until Wednesday; state legislative results will be final Sunday. But he said the preliminary returns show clear "tendencies" toward PRI defeats in at least 10 major cities and towns and give the party just a third of the seats in the state legislature.

"These results are broadly representative of what we're going to wind up seeing in July, at least in this region," said Federico Estvez, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technical Institute of Mexico in the nation's capital. "It seems the well has run dry for the PRI in the electorate here."

Despite the clear protest vote against the ruling party in many parts of the agricultural and industrial state, Monday's partial returns showed the PRI was headed for victories in more than half of 33 mostly small, rural municipalities in the state.

But the PRI had controlled all except one of those town halls before Sunday's vote. It was losing in some of Morelos' largest and most important cities, and running second to the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, in a struggle to maintain control of the state legislature, where it has held an overwhelming majority through most of the century.

Loss of the state legislature would give a combined opposition force control over the state's budget and cut into the power of the PRI governor, Jorge Carrillo Olea.

Monday's emerging PRD victories appeared to boost the chances of the party's candidate for Mexico City mayor, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. Cardenas, who finished a distant third to President Ernesto Zedillo of the PRI in the 1994 presidential polls, officially launched his campaign here Sunday.