Mexico tries on democracy Divided government: Zedillo makes party accept opponents' legitimacy.

September 03, 1997

THE MEXICAN Congress passed its first test for multi-party democracy on Monday when the ruling Party of Revolutionary Institutions (PRI) took part as a minority even though it has the most seats of any one party. It was on the verge of holding its own rump session, threatening political chaos, when President Ernesto Zedillo convinced his followers to play the game by the rules.

A four-party coalition built on the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and left-wing Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD) holds 261 of the 500 seats as a result of the July 6 election. It is the first time PRI is not the majority since its founding in 1929. No one knows how to behave.

The coalition seems opportunistic except for the true importance of not being PRI. Though PAN may note that PRI stole its platform in ditching socialism for a market economy, PAN and PRD sincerely believe the priority is to rid the country of corruption and end PRI's monopoly on power.

In his annual state of the nation address, President Zedillo stuck to his guns, pleading with the opposition to support his austere program of controlling inflation and promoting savings, and to ignore its own pledges to cut taxes. In the ceremonial first reply from an actual opposition, Porfirio Munoz Ledo of the PRD respectfully declined.

He called on the president to answer congressional questions on his economic report, which previous presidents did not deign to do. The session will witness a true debate on economic policy, the outcome of which is not fore-ordained. Both the president and the congressional majority were trying to set responsible precedents, even if the president's PRI allies did not always have the idea.

Both sides face three more years of divided rule, the mixture of opposition and cooperation that Washington endures. Mexico may yet show other nations how to move from one-party rule to power-sharing by evolution, not revolution. So far, so good.

Pub Date: 9/03/97

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