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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mexico Braces for Election, Hopes to Avoid Mass Fraud

MEXICO CITY -- President Carlos Salinas has exhorted Mexicans to vote in weekend elections that he says will be clean and democratic, while observer and opposition groups have warned against fraud.

"The electoral process will be exemplary," Salinas said in a nationally televised speech Thursday night. "It will be a lesson in democracy for our children and, without doubt, the pride of all Mexicans."

Salinas came to power in 1988 in an election marred by opposition charges of widespread fraud by Mexico's ruling party.

But under electoral reforms Salinas pushed during his administration, the election Sunday for the first time will not be directly controlled by the government.

Even so, election observers complained Thursday of irregularities in voting lists for the presidential election and said thousands of Mexican pollwatchers have not been accredited.

Three days before Sunday's balloting, Civic Alliance, the largest independent group of Mexican observers, said the Federal Electoral Institute had certified just 3,000 of its 12,000 proposed domestic observers.

"We are still hopeful that everyone will be accredited," said Enrique Calderon, a spokesman for Civic Alliance, which reported that the offices of some Mexican observers had been ransacked and anonymous threats have been made.

Mexican Forum, an independent observer group backed by Mexican-Americans, said Thursday it had found several irregularities in just one official voting list for a representative neighborhood in the capital.

Observers on a walking tour of the central Cuauhtemoc district said they found "phantom" voters registered at some addresses, including voters registered who were dead and a family of voters registered as living in a restaurant.

"None of this is fabricated. We saw it with our own eyes," said Jaime Martinez, a Mexican-American observer from San Antonio, Texas.

Mexican Forum questioned whether the Federal Electoral Institute had done a sufficient job of verifying voter lists, but the election body has said its list is more than 90 percent accurate.

The governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or the PRI, has been accused of using fraud to maintain an unbroken string of presidential victories since its 1929 founding. But it has promised this time to allow the cleanest vote ever.

Election officials say $730 million have been spent to overhaul voter lists. New voter ID cards with photographs, a fraud prosecutor, and citizen poll watchers are to be used for the first time.

The leading business group, Coparmex, said the Salinas administration would be held accountable if problems arise, warning "the cost could be great."

But the Mexican stock market hit a six-month high of 2,735 points on Wednesday, up from a Dec. 31, 1993, close of 2,602 points on confidence in a clean vote.

Many business leaders said they thought the frontrunning PRI candidate, Ernesto Zedillo, would be elected peacefully and continue the Salinas free-market plan that has beaten back hyperinflation and sold off hundreds of inefficient state businesses.

At a final rally Wednesday before campaigning ended officially at midnight, Zedillo called for a "peaceful, clean and noble election."

Third-place Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who believes he was cheated of victory in his 1988 race against Salinas, used his final campaign appearance to urge a large turnout to deter fraud.

Cardenas was running a distant third in this year's pre-election polls, but critics said the surveys may not have shown his support among peasants.

Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, of the conservative National Action Party, also vowed he would do better than the second place granted him in the polls

One in four of Mexico's 45.7 million voters are said to be undecided -- and that could deliver an election day surprise.

The outwardly festive mood at the final campaign rallies was tinged with fear as Mexicans talked of the possibility that any fraud could trigger violence.