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
Election Day unfolded in relative tranquillity with only scattered incidents of violence reported around the country. The autonomous Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) provided a measure of integrity to the election that previous campaigns had never had. But although the IFE helped insure fraud-free voting at the ballot box itself, it had no control over the wholesale buying of votes by the PRI in advance of the election.
Still, Vicente Fox obliterated the PRI. His big numbers also seem to spell the end of the electoral line for longtime left-leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, whose PRD captured just 17 percent of the popular vote, about the same as what Cardenas took home in his failed 1994 bid for the presidency. Cardenas supporters and many observers will always believe that, in 1988, Cardenas outpolled the PRI presidential candidate, but was denied victory because of the PRI-controlled vote count.
A three-time reject for the top job, Cardenas will be 73 by the time the next presidential race comes around in 2006. Waiting in the wings is his much younger protege Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who handily won the Mexico City mayoralty on July 2. Lopez Obrador‘s victory renewed the PRD mandate in the Western Hemisphere’s largest city, a mandate that began in 1997 with a Cardenas mayoral landslide.
At the congressional level, Fox‘s coattails were broad enough to win the new president a short legislative majority. Preliminary results give the PAN a slight (224-209) advantage over the PRI in the lower house, with the PRD garnering just 60 seats. Over on the senate side, at this writing, the PRI holds a six-vote edge over the PAN, a balance which will give the PRD, with its 16 votes, some needed bargaining power.
An alliance between the PRI and Cardenas’ party against what Cardenas labels the ”fascist“ Fox cannot be discounted. On election night, in the desolate PRI parking lot, disaffected Institutional militants argued for a return to the social left-center roots of the once-ruling party, a Cardenas goal when he was still a member of the PRI.
Although the Mexican government‘s economic policies will not budge from PRI standards, Fox’s band of victory will allow him to move on widespread corruption. The indictment of high-profile PRI officials is a seemingly inevitable scenario -- despite the new president‘s election-night promise that he will not conduct a witch-hunt. Of course, Fox is keenly aware that corruption is so ingrained in the fabric of Mexican political life that trying to clean house could bring down the house itself, and that a sort of unstated amnesty could prevail.
Mexico’s first opposition president also will have a golden opportunity to fix other long-standing social problems, such as the still-simmering conflict with the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) in Chiapas. Like all Mexicans, the Zapatistas have only known PRI governments, and their disposition toward a Fox presidency is uncharted ground -- several years ago, the EZLN‘s charismatic spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos characterized Fox as ”a consequent politician.“
One scenario being discussed here would have Vicente Fox appoint Cardenas as a peace ambassador to Chiapas -- the former left candidate supports military withdrawal from the conflict zone and congressional passage of a law that would grant Mexico’s 56 indigenous peoples limited autonomy. Another scenario, however, has the military, to which Fox has no ties, seeking to define its influence in the new regime by flexing its muscle in Chiapas.
Perhaps the most exhilarating feature of the Fox victory is that it offers an unprecedented panoply of scenarios for a Mexico that changed irrevocably on July 2, a change that did not end Sunday but rather opens the door to the possibility of much deeper change ahead.
”When I woke up this morning,“ testified waiter Armando Penalosa, serving morning-after coffee at La Blanca restaurant in the city‘s old quarter, ”I felt like a big weight had been lifted from my chest.“