Revolution in Mexico from the ballot box

Fox: Businessman-outsider wins presidency, a chance to end one-party rule and corruption.

July 04, 2000

VICENTE FOX, the president-elect of Mexico, ended the ruling party's 71-year monopoly on power. Just by winning, he delivered on the first of his promises, the easiest.

The polls predicting a dead heat were wrong. Not only was his margin over the ruling party candidate decisive. Combined with the vote for the left-wing alternative, it showed about two-thirds choosing to throw the rascals out.

This triumph of democracy should reassure the United States. The two countries are inextricably linked. Thanks to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Mexico is this country's second-leading trading partner, as well as leading source of immigrants and narcotics. Whatever reforms promise rule of law, jobs and an end to criminal influence in government are welcome news.

The election was a triumph for the outgoing president, Ernesto Zedillo. He dedicated his six-year term to genuine reforms including market economics, free press and honest elections, even if that doomed his Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) rule.

For the first time, an independent commission ran the vote. PRI bosslets bought votes in time-honored fashion, but were thwarted from stealing the count.

After the cheering stops, actual governing will present huge challenges. Although a state governor, Mr. Fox was a businessman until recently. His National Action Party (PAN) never governed nationally. He needs the civil service, which is indistinguishable from PRI patronage. He must win its loyalty and weed it selectively.

Mr. Fox is a commercial modernist and Catholic traditionalist, replacing a regime that is rhetorically socialist and anti-clerical. The origins of PAN six decades ago are as a church crusade that was incidentally pro-business.

Mr. Fox won with a broadly appealing promise to end corruption and liberate the economy. He assured voters that he is committed to "liberty, diversity and pluralism." Those who wasted their votes for the leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas suspected otherwise of Mr. Fox. He must win their trust.

The continent's second-most populous country, Latin America's second-biggest economy, is in the throes of a genuine revolution. It is all the more exciting and optimistic for having come by ballot.

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