By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
MEXICO CITY, JULY 4 -- As preliminary results from Mexico‘s most hotly contested presidential election ever began to roll in Sunday evening, July 2, thousands of railroad workers and their families gathered in the giant parking lot of the long-ruling (71 years) Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) bunker in northern Mexico City. With rank-and-file PRIstas, one never knows how much of an outburst of support is sincere, and how much bought and paid for, but those gathered were clearly poised to cheer home yet another victory. Instead, they gradually fell into a sullen silence, their noisemakers clacked to a dead stop, and the truculent trumpet blasts were shushed.
By 9 p.m., a dark rain cloud blotted out the sky over this teeming capital and a chill, dank wind raked the PRI compound, presaging electoral doom. By 11, the exit polls and the quick counts -- salient features of the most U.S.-like election in Mexican history -- signaled that it was all over. With a double-digit lead, rightist Vicente Fox had become the first opposition candidate to win the presidency of Mexico since the birth of the PRI seven decades ago.
Inside an auditorium named for the stern general who founded the state party in 1928, PRI leaders wept openly as outgoing president Ernesto Zedillo (on the big screen) and his hand-picked successor Francisco Labastida conceded the death of one of the longest-lived political dynasties in the known universe.
In the parking lot, the sullen railroad men and the lottery-ticket hawkers and the PRI ambulantes (street venders) folded up their banners and trudged off into the uncertain night. The mariachis packed away their instruments, the stage was torn apart, and the sound system that was to have brought the PRI’s ”Fiesta of Triumph“ to the nation was dismantled. After midnight, only the garbage flapping in the wind remained -- the garbage, and a strobe light someone had forgotten to unplug, sweeping the abandoned parking lot from one dark corner to the next, searching for survivors.
The July 2 Mexican election was supposed to have been a dead heat between Labastida and Fox -- virtually every poll, an infant science here, indicated that the race was headed into the twilight zone. But those Mexicans who went to bed Sunday night, or early Monday morning in some cases, did so with Fox holding a seemingly insurmountable lead. Of course, a fraud-tainted PRI resurgence when no one was watching was Fox‘s worst nightmare, but by mid-morning Monday, the historic victory was holding fast. Preliminary results give Fox 43 percent, with Labastida trailing at 36 percent. The third-place finisher was Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, longtime leader of the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), with 17 percent.
Experts scurried to explain their errant prognostications, which had asserted that the race would be too close to call. In the end, it became clear that the pollsters had failed to take into account how cautious 71 years of authoritarian, one-party tyranny had made Mexico’s electorate. Many had just lied to their inquisitors, and those 10 percent to 19 percent of voters designated ”undecided“ were very decided all the time -- they just didn‘t want to say it out loud.
Fox’s victory was confected from a potpourri of constituencies, all of which portend a shift to the right at the top of the Mexican ladder. Warm support from big-business circles swelled Fox‘s campaign coffers, and he will gladly reciprocate -- the one-time head of Coca-Cola in Mexico and Central America is as committed a globalizer as his predecessor Zedillo. Fox and his National Action Party (PAN) will enthusiastically spur the dog-eat-dog, neo-liberal bent of an economy that has made a few Mexicans very rich and cast 26 million more into extreme poverty.
In addition to the bankers and the industrialists, Vicente Fox appears to have overwhelmingly captured Mexico’s Catholic vote. Wrapping himself in the banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the nation‘s most holy icon, and condemning abortion as ”murder,“ the PANista earned the sub rosa support of the conservative hierarchy.
On the other side of the political ledger, Fox attracted several prominent associates of the PRD and, most probably, a measure of support from rank-and- file PRDistas themselves, who, in the alleged privacy of the voting booth, marked their ballots for the PANista. Despite political beliefs directly at odds with those espoused by Fox, they were apparently willing to do almost anything to dump the PRI.
Even with the monumental victory (43 percent of 38 million votes cast with 95 percent of the precincts counted), Fox’s triumph is not exactly unconditional. During the boisterous post-election rally under the gilded Angel of Independence on a downtown boulevard here, Fox was warned by the huge throng of celebrants ”not to fail us.“
”We will obligate him to govern well,“ growled Alfonso Munoz, an inner-city newspaper vendor.
The dimensions of the Fox victory are even more impressive because he beat the most egregious and well-oiled PRI vote-buying machine this reporter has experienced in four presidential elections in Mexico. Reports of shenanigans emerged right up until the eve of the balloting, which was when the PRI governor of Michoacan was audited on tape, purportedly plotting the distribution of US$80 million in budgeted state moneys to potential voters. This scene and various reports of coercion and bribery, all of it attributed to the no-longer-ruling party, made headlines every day.