Important gubernatorial elections in Mexico this past weekend offered clear evidence that while parts of that nation continue to make encouraging progress toward genuine democracy, other regions are still struggling to break free of a backward political system.
In the central state of Guanajuato, the opposition National Action Party, or PAN, won a clear-cut victory that could set the stage for a spirited contest in Mexico's next presidential elections. But those hopeful results were overshadowed by a controversial election in the Caribbean state of Yucatan.
FOR THE RECORD - Clarification
Los Angeles Times Friday June 2, 1995 Home Edition Metro Part B Page 6 Letters Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Cancun--An editorial on Mexican elections published Wednesday stated that Yucatan is best know to most U.S. citizens for the tourist resort of Cancun. While Cancun is on the Yucatan Peninsula, it is in the state of Quintana Roo.
The victor in Guanajuato was Vicente Fox, an outspoken PAN leader who makes no secret of his ambition to run for president in the year 2000. Fox is likely to use his new office as a bully pulpit from which he can lambaste the economic policies of Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo as well as his increasingly unpopular Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.
But PAN's victory in Guanajuato was no surprise. The state is a PAN stronghold and there is evidence that Fox won a disputed gubernatorial election held there four years ago, only to see it snatched away by the election irregularities for which the PRI is notorious--and which may have occurred once again in Yucatan.
Yucatan, best known to most U.S. citizens for the tourist mecca Cancun, is largely rural and poor. Its citizens rely for even marginal prosperity on tourism and the benevolence of government programs used by the PRI for political patronage.
That old PRI machine pulled out all the stops to claim a narrow victory for Victor Cervera Pacheco, an aging political hack who epitomizes the "dinosaurs" who still dominate the traditional sectors of Mexico's ruling party. Cervera had served one appointed term as Yucatan's governor in the 1980s. The PRI so lacked creativity, not to mention new blood, that its operatives rewrote the state constitution to allow Cervera to run for another term.
And despite the severe Mexican economic crisis that has hurt Yucatan as much as Guanajuato, Cervera claimed a 49% to 44% victory over a lightly regarded PAN candidate, amid widespread reports of voter intimidation and fraud.
Zedillo was quick to congratulate Fox on his victory in Guanajuato, but that statesmanlike gesture was undermined by his equally rapid recognition of Cervera's claimed victory. Zedillo says all the right things about making Mexico, and his own party, more democratic. But every time he allows a dinosaur like Cervera to claim a disputed victory, Zedillo only undermines his own hard-won credibility.