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A candidate backed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftwing presidential contender, was holding on to a wafer-thin lead on Monday in a vital race to win the governorship of Chiapas state in southern Mexico.

With 94 per cent of the votes counted, Juan Sabines, who is running as the local candidate for Mr López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution party (PRD), on Monday was ahead of José Antonio Aguilar of the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) by the tiny margin of 0.22 per cent.

If confirmed – official results are not due for days – Mr Sabines’ victory would hand Mr López Obrador’s party an important gubernatorial foothold in the south, adding a seat to the five governorships it holds nationally.

It would also represent a personal boost for Mr López Obrador in his bid to challenge results of last month’s presidential election. The leftwing leader, who narrowly lost to Felipe Calderón of the ruling centre-right National Action party (PAN), has mounted a civil resistance campaign to force a full recount of what he believes was a fraudulent election.

Early on Monday, Mr Sabines told a local media source that he was confident he would win by at least two percentage points “in spite of the irregularities in the [voting] process”.

He also extended a hand of reconciliation to Mr Aguilar, and asked him to join his political programme “to avoid electoral problems that could place in jeopardy the stability of the state”.

Like the presidential campaign, the race for governorship of Chiapas has been marred by accusations from both sides of foul play.

The most striking aspect of the campaign came two weeks ago. Francisco Rojas, Mr Calderón’s candidate, decided to withdraw to increase Mr Aguilar’s chances.

Many voters were dismayed at news of the pact between the PAN and the PRI, two long-time enemies. The alliance, which Mr Calderón quickly distanced himself from, also lent weight to Mr López Obrador’s arguments that the two traditional parties would stop at nothing to prevent his PRD from accumulating power.

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