A real horse race in Mexico

Election: Opposition leader visiting D.C. could be the next president.

March 27, 2000

AFTER opposition leaders won elections in Taiwan and Senegal, anything seems possible. Ours is not the only campaign in North America too close to call. Mexico is electing a president, July 2.

Vincente Fox, candidate of the rightist National Action Party (PAN) came to Washington, acting like a democratic opposition leader with a chance of winning, and was received as one. He talked responsibly about trade, immigration and narcotics issues.

Francisco Labastida, nominee of the ruling Party of Revolutionary Institutions (PRI), would once have been the automatic winner. PRI has held power for 71 years. Mr. Labastida, a cabinet minister for three presidents, last year won PRI's first primary.

Mr. Labastida is leading Mr. Fox in the polls by a small margin. A majority of supporters of the third candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, prefer Mr. Fox as second choice. Mr. Cardenas was thought to have won the 1988 election only to have it stolen. His time is past.

In Mexico, where everyone used to be socialist, everyone is a market economist today. PRI adopted the open economy principles of PAN. What PAN has going for it is that it is not PRI.

This election is about the crime, corruption and drug connections tainting a party in power too long. Mr. Fox, a former state governor and soft-drink executive, promises a clean start.

Mr. Labastida is not a guaranteed loser, however. Mexico is completing a free trade pact with the European Union. Some $12.4 billion foreign investment is expected this year, up 24 percent. Unemployment is at a 15-year low. Such news helps incumbent parties.

Still, it's a horse race. A change by ballot would add new luster to Mexico's tired old revolution, and make U.S. Americans more comfortable with the NAFTA embrace.

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