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Governing Party Prepares For Its First Gubernatorial Primary

March 17, 1991

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ For the first time in Mexico’s history, members of the ruling party will vote Sunday in a gubernatorial primary, choosing their candidate for the northeastern state of Nuevo Leon.

In most elections since the Institutional Revolutionary Party took power in Mexico in 1929, candidates were chosen by a small clique at the top of the ruling hierarchy. Applying a time-tested mixture of hard campaigning, corruption and repression, these candidates rarely lost elections.

This year in Nuevo Leon, an estimated 600,000 people registered with the party, known by its Spanish initials PRI, are eligible to choose their candidate from among five nominees. The general election is July 7.

The nominees are Socrates Rizzo, mayor of the state capital Monterrey, Mexico’s third largest city; Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, a financial official; Romeo Flores Caballero, director of international affairs for the national PRI committee; Graciano Bortoni Urteaga, a former congressman and state PRI president, and congressman Napoleon Cantu Cerna.

The winning candidate will face Rogelio Sada Zambrano of the conservative National Action Party and Lucas de la Garza of the center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party for the 6-year post now held by Gov. Jorge Trevino.

The party’s candidates for governor have lost a gubernatorial election only once, in 1989 in the northern state of Baja California.

The wealthy industrial and banking state borders the United States and is the native state of the family of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Last October, it was the site of a summit between Salinas and President Bush.

Despite the PRI’s overwhelming political strength, there have been some gains by opposition parties in recent years. The National Action Party has made large gains in the northern states.

In 1988, Salinas won the presidential election with little more than 50 percent of the vote, the smallest margin in the party’s history. The PRI also suffered its first Senate losses.

Sensing that the PRI’s days of political monopoly were coming to a close, Salinas began pushing for reforms to help change the party’s image and lead the way toward political and economic modernization.

PRI primary elections for legislative and municipal races have been a challenge for members unaccustomed to the process. The primaries have been plagued by complaints of vote rigging and physical confrontations.

In Nuevo Leon, ballots are to be cast in transparent boxes and every voter must dip a finger in indelible ink to prevent voting more than once.

But controversies have already arisen.

Originally, all card-carrying PRI members were to be allowed to vote. Then, after a local union handed out thousands of cards, the party decided to accept votes from only those citizens whose names appear on its most recent registration list.

The PRI-affiliated Mexican Labor Federation has thrown its support to Rizzo and sent its members to harass other PRI candidates during their campaign stops. Brawls have broken out at least twice.

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