The Miami Herald
May 21, 2001

Mexican elections' outcome will gauge support of Fox

Voting to begin on Wednesday

 Herald World Staff

 MEXICO CITY -- The outcome of a series of state and local elections that begins this week will help decide whether Mexican President Vicente Fox can deliver on promises of economic and social reform that swept him into office last December.

 The elections will determine whether Fox has enough support to enact constitutional changes ratified by Congress that are key to his programs.

 Seventeen of the 31 states plus the federal district of Mexico City must endorse the constitutional amendments before they become law, but 19 local legislatures are
 controlled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI, which Fox last year ousted from the nation's presidency for the first time in more than 70 years.

 Beginning Wednesday with Yucatán and ending Nov. 11 with Michoacán, Puebla, Sinaloa and Tlaxcala, Mexican voters in 15 states will elect state legislatures, mayors and other local officials. Four of the states will pick governors, too.

 Fox and the PRI are at odds on issues that require constitutional changes, including privatization of electricity and possibly oil, and government restructuring that would affect the wars on crime and drugs. The PRI still controls the largest voting bloc in Congress.

 The local election results also will show whether Fox and his conservative National Action Party, or PAN, have not only taken the presidency from the PRI, but also
 achieved a political realignment of voters. For decades, the PRI controlled all but a few of elected offices at the federal, state and local levels.

 The PRI's grip on local government began to slip in the 1980s, but the PRI still controls nearly 60 percent of Mexico's 2,443 municipalities.

 By contrast, Fox's party holds sway in 13 percent of those, while the leftist Party for the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, is in power in 11 percent of those.

 Municipalities are increasingly important in Mexico's political landscape as a result of reforms that strengthened their autonomy and boosted local financial resources.

 Analysts predict that the fortunes of Fox's PAN will rise, while the PRI will continue to decline. Little change is expected for the PRD, which trailed the other two leading parties in presidential and congressional elections last year.

 "The PRI's state and local election results last year were a reflection that it was in power,'' political scientist José Antonio Crespo said. ``From now on, we will see how much its position will be reduced.''

 Historically, Fox's party was strongest in northern states, where economic and social ties to the United States are strongest. Now the PAN may be a serious contender in traditional PRI strongholds.

 Unlike the past, analysts expect clean elections and uncontroversial results. The contests had often been marred by accusations of fraud, especially by PRI officeholders. At times, the accusations have led to violence.

                                    © 2001