> Opposition candidate Pablo Salazar claimed victory late
> Sunday in the gubernatorial election in
> Mexico's troubled southern state of Chiapas.
> Shortly before 11 p.m. local time Sunday, the state electoral commission
> said Salazar, an independent senator at the head of an eight-party
> alliance, had apparently won with 57 percent to 43 percent for Sen. Sami
> David of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), based on exit
> Final vote tabulations were expected to be released Monday.
> Salazar pledged in a victory celebration to restore order to the
> strife-ridden state.
> "I want our state to begin a new stage of
> reconciliation and peace," he said. "Now, no more
> rancor or attacks. Now, no more oppression of
> the manifestation of ideas."
> A Protestant and former PRI member, Salazar is
> slated to become the first non-PRI governor of
> Chiapas in seven decades and the first
> non-Roman Catholic to lead the state. Salazar quit
> the PRI last year, arguing that the party should
> move faster to solve the Zapatista land revolt in
> The Zapatista National Revolutionary Army rebelled on New Year's Day
> demanding justice and democracy for Chiapas' Indians. Though open
> lasted only two weeks, the guerrilla presence in the state's jungle
> canyons has led to repeated clashes between dissidents and
> Election seen as key test
> As the first gubernatorial election since Vicente Fox wrested Mexico's
> presidency from the PRI on July 2, Sunday's contest in Chiapas was seen
> as a major test of the PRI's ability to rebound.
> Independent organizations had released four exit polls showing Salazar
> ahead by 7 to 17 percentage points, said Luis Felipe Brave Mena,
> national president of Fox's National Action Party, or PAN.
> National PRI president Dulce Maria Sauri challenged the validity of
> the exit poll, saying such surveys were designed for urban areas,
> not the vast countryside of Chiapas.
> Thousands of electoral official and independent observers had fanned out
> across the state Sunday to keep an eye on voting. They reported only
> scattered problems, though for some voters, casting their ballots was an
> act of courage.
> Voters feared paramilitary attacks
> Survivors of a 1997 massacre of 45 people in the village of Acteal
> marched for four hours through the mountains to vote in Los Chorros,
> the town that had expelled them, and home to many of their
> paramilitary attackers.
> "The greatest fear the people have in coming to the polls is suffering
> an attack by the paramilitaries along the way," said Agustin Vasquez,
> spokesman for the Las Abejas group of refugees from the Los Chorros
> Samuel Ruiz, the outspoken retired Roman Catholic bishop of San
> diocese, voted Sunday morning and said the election would have
> repercussions for the rest of the country.
> "I came today to cast my vote in favor of a new political era that will
> bring about peace and justice, which are the hope of all my Chiapan
> brothers and sisters," said Ruiz, a strong supporter of the rights of
> Chiapas' indigenous Indians.
> About 4,000 polling places were scattered throughout Mexico's poorest
> and most rural state.
> Campaigns driven by Zapatista challenge
> Both campaigns in this election were driven by the issue of war. Both
> candidates pledged to reduce the military presence in Chiapas, solve the
> religious, ethnic political and land disputes, and promote dialogue
> between the government and the rebels.
> Salazar charged the government with antagonizing the Zapatistas and
> supporters through an increased military presence that he said
> fomented violence and stalled peace talks.
> "Chiapas has put to the test all of the nation's social policy," he
> "The consolidation of Mexico's democracy is not a given with the victory
> of Fox. Chiapas has much to say to the nation and the world in this
> David accused Salazar of changing parties for political expediency.
> Sunday's election was seen as a key step in renewing negotiations
> the government and the Zapatistas.
> The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.