Decisions in Mexico

Election: After 71 years in power, ruling party has a chance to lose and should take it.

June 25, 2000

TWO MAJOR exit polls scheduled for Mexico's July 2 presidential election offer the best hope the count will be honest.

There is no major violence so far to frighten voters into prolonging the status quo, as there was six years ago. There are allegations of coercion and vote-rigging, based on expectation as much as evidence.

Two elections ago, in 1988, most Mexicans thought the left-winger Cuahtemoc Cardenas had won. But Carlos Salinas de Gortari of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was declared victor and took Mexico into NAFTA and free enterprise before leaving office for exile amid a cloud of corruption, murder and narcotics trafficking.

A 1996 reform created an independent authority to run credible elections. If anyone beats the PRI nominee, Francisco Labastida, it will not be Mr. Cardenas, running third, but Vicente Fox of the conservative National Action Party (PAN). Polls show a dead heat.

So strong is Mexico's desire for reform that Mr. Labastida won PRI's first-ever primary. Previous PRI candidates were handpicked by their predecessors.

Mexico has a strong, one-term, six-year presidency -- a temporary dictator. The U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787 debated the single six-year term, rejecting it in favor of a four-year term allowing re-election. The Mexican system still has advocates here.

To make it work, Mexico needs Mr. Fox. Not because he represents a policy alternative. PRI, born as a party of the left, has long since co-opted the ideas of the pro-business PAN. The virtue of PAN is that it is not PRI.

The only way to break the chain of corruption and cynicism that grips any party that stays in power too long is to send it to the wilderness. The only way to root narco-traffic influence out of PRI is to dump PRI.

Even Mr. Cardenas, who embodies the leftist ideals PRI abandoned, ought to vote for Mr. Fox. Even Mr. Zedillo, who wants to be remembered as the president who brought Mexico true democracy, ought to do so. It's supposed to be a secret ballot.

Mr. Fox used to be a Coca-Cola executive. The company once was a symbol of capitalist imperialism. It is PRI's imperialism that Mexico needs to overthrow now, for PRI's own good, and Mexico's.

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