The Washington Post
Friday, March 26, 2004; Page A15

Independent To Run for President In Mexico

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY, March 25 -- Former foreign minister Jorge G. Castañeda announced Thursday that he will run for president in 2006, roiling an already combative race that is dominating Mexican politics more than two years before voters go to the polls.

"There is a huge party of people out there who don't identify with any party, and they are angry, they are disappointed and they are disgusted with the three large existing parties," said Castañeda, who is running as an independent. "People want a citizen's alternative. I'm a spokesperson for all the people who are fed up."

Castañeda's announcement, made Thursday evening in a stylish two-minute spot on all major television stations, comes as politicians from all parties are scrambling to position themselves to succeed President Vicente Fox, who is limited by law to a single six-year term.

Fox's inability to get results in the three years since he took office in December 2000, after 71 years of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has turned him into a virtual lame duck halfway through his term. Fox's perceived weakness has caused the campaign to succeed him to begin far earlier than normal.

Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been the clear front-runner in the race for months, even though he has yet to declare his candidacy. But his popularity has dropped sharply in recent weeks following the release of videotapes showing top officials in his administration and from his Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, gambling in Las Vegas and accepting cash bribes from a fugitive businessman. Lopez Obrador has alleged that the tapes were dirty tricks by political enemies, leading to a highly partisan congressional inquiry that has inflamed bitter fighting between and within the major parties.

A poll this week in the Milenio newspaper showed Lopez Obrador at 30 percent, virtually tied with the two other presumed front-runners, PRI President Roberto Madrazo and Interior Secretary Santiago Creel, a member of Fox's National Action Party, or PAN. Neither Madrazo nor Creel has formally announced his candidacy. The poll showed Castañeda running fourth with 6 percent.

Castañeda, 50, is an academic and author who spent a quarter-century as an outspoken and often caustic critic of the PRI before helping topple it as a member of Fox's campaign team in 2000. He spent two years as Fox's foreign minister before resigning in early 2003.

Castañeda said in an interview that 60 percent of Mexico's registered voters did not vote in midterm elections last year, and another 10 percent voted for candidates from outside the three main parties. He said he would try to appeal to those disaffected voters with fresh ideas on education, justice and the economy.

© 2004