More power to Mexico's voters

PRI: World's strongest party goes for presidential primary in hopes of survival.

May 25, 1999

AS this country's partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement and supplier of immigrants, Mexico has the ability to make U.S. citizens uncomfortable. Its political culture is so alien to ours.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) has ruled for 70 years, each president chosen by his predecessor and possessing enormous powers for six years. PRI rhetoric is revolutionary, but its rule is institutional.

So convincingly has President Ernesto Zedillo shaken this culture that an opinion poll on the year 2000 presidential election gave the lead to Guanajuato state Gov. Vicente Fox of the opposition National Action Party (PAN).

The most popular PRI candidate is Tabasco Gov. Roberto Madrazo, followed by Mexico City Mayor Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the Democratic Revolution Party.

Since PRI dropped socialism to adopt the free-market policies of PAN, the only appeal of PAN is that it is not PRI. Mr. Cardenas upholds the leftist ideals PRI abandoned. The two opposition parties, sharing only a revulsion of the governing party, are trying to decide if they can cooperate.

What polls really show is that people increasingly believe that a non-PRI winner might be allowed to take office. In fear, PRI decided to choose its nominee by nationwide primary. The idea is that if the people choose the nominee, they might elect him.

This way, President Zedillo is not anointing his choice, assumed to be Interior Secretary Francisco Labastida Ochoa. The energy of the primary would give its winner a head start in the general election.

Any genuine advance of Mexican democracy would be in the U.S. national interest. An honestly democratic Mexico would propel fewer emigrants here and be a more equitable trading partner.

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