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Monday, February 22, 1999 Published at 11:41 GMT

World: Americas

Mexico's ruling party 'holding on'

Mexico's ruling party hopes to extend its 79-year hold on power

By Peter Greste

Based on early returns in two state elections in Mexico, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party appears to have held on to power.

In what is seen as a key electoral test in the run up to presidential elections in 2000, the opposition had hoped to capitalise on weakness in the economy and allegations of corruption against the ruling party.

The opposition party, the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), campaigned particularly hard in the Caribbean coastal state of Quintana Roo.

The incumbent governor has been accused of running the state like an overlord and of profiting from the flourishing drugs trade.

In the central state of Hidalgo, the opposition had hoped to use an economic crisis to chip away at the ruling party's hold on power.

Party of the century

[ image: Ernesto Zedillo hopes to continue PRI's hold on the presidency]
Ernesto Zedillo hopes to continue PRI's hold on the presidency
But the Institutional Ruling Party, otherwise known by its Spanish initials as the PRI, is often described as the world's most efficient election-winning machine. It is one of the world's longest ruling parties, having held the presidency since 1929.

The latest results will be a boost for the incumbent Institutional Revolutionary Party and a blow to both the PRD and the conservative, pro-business National Action Party.

The PRI is hoping to extend its unbroken 79-year run in office, and although it has lost 10 of Mexico's 32 states in the past decade, the PRI counts electoral victories like Sunday's as reinforcement for its apparently shaky power base.

Peso-polluted polling?

Winning elections are what the PRI does best, but already the opposition has accused it of vote buying.

At the PRI's closing election rally, party workers handed me a card promising discount health services, while opposition observers said the party offered free breakfasts, T-shirts and building materials in return for votes.

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