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The Mirror Has Three Faces in Mexico Politics

New age of pluralism dawns in nation as two opposition parties share the spoils with long-ruling PRI in elections.

November 16, 1996|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Meet Mexico's political future:

Jose Luis Duran is a 35-year-old graphic designer who promised "a new way of governing." Now he's mayor of Naucalpan, a Mexico City suburb of nearly 1 million that ranks among the nation's largest municipalities. His party: the conservative opposition National Action Party, or PAN.

Valentin Gonzalez, 41, is a self-described "social fighter" who campaigned for sweeping reforms in Mexico's authoritarian political system. Now he's mayor of Nezahualcoyotl, a mostly impoverished Mexico City suburb of 1.3 million. His party: the leftist opposition Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD.

Garduno Perez Armando, 42, is a traditional politician who rose through the ranks of Mexico's ruling party. Now he's the mayor of Toluca, the state capital on Mexico City's outskirts that is one of the country's most important towns. His party: the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

From backgrounds as diverse as Mexico's fast-changing political scene, all three were declared winners this week in local elections in the state of Mexico--results that analysts say foreshadow a new era of political pluralism in this country.

In advance of a year that will redraw Mexico's political landscape--including national polls for all 500 Chamber of Deputies seats, the first-ever Mexico City mayoral elections and local votes in a third of the nation's 31 states--the results of Sunday's vote on the capital's outskirts were a clear bellwether for a nation in political transition, the analysts said.

"The results of these polls foretell elections in 1997 that will be very competitive among several parties," said Emilio Zebadua, who serves on a newly independent Federal Election Commission that will supervise the polls. "They confirm that we are in a new era of multi-partisanship in Mexico."

Analysts initially called this week's results another incremental defeat for the PRI--which reacted Thursday night by curtailing reforms that would make next year's polls even fairer. But they later stressed that the returns showed a leveling of the political playing field in a nation where the PRI has used the levers of power to rule for decades.

With the PAN's victories this week in key mayoral races such as the one in Naucalpan, after important gubernatorial wins in several other states last year, the right-of-center party has clearly emerged as the nation's second-largest political force, now representing more than a third of the electorate.

The PRI, though defeated in several dozen cities it had controlled for more than half a century, won not only in Toluca but also in 74 of the state's 122 towns. Party leaders stressed that their showing was far better than in 1995, when bitter state and local losses convinced many that free and fair elections would push the PRI into oblivion.

And the PRD, discounted as a spent force after distant third-place finishes last year, bounced back with such key victories as Gonzalez's win.

Clearly, however, the PRI's unilateral move in the lower house of Congress on Thursday was a blow to the transition to true multi-party democracy. Stung by this week's defeats, the PRI used its majority to ram through a watered-down version of an election-reform package sponsored by President Ernesto Zedillo and approved in principle by the Chamber of Deputies earlier this year.

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Ignoring Zedillo's calls for deeper reform, the PRI imposed new media-access and campaign-spending laws likely to favor the ruling party next year, especially in the most dramatic contest: the first direct election for mayor of Mexico City next July 6.

Nonetheless, the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Jose Woldenberg, concluded that the recent vote proves "elections are becoming more and more competitive, multiplying the base of the parties each time, and I don't see how anyone can stop that process."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Mexican Elections

Elections in 1997 are expected to redraw Mexico's political landscape. All 500 seats in the federal Chamber of Deputies will be up for grabs, and a third of the nation is scheduled to hold local or state elections.

Mexico City:

First-ever direct mayoral and City Council elections

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