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THE WORLD | MEXICO

After Elections, Politics Will Never Be the Same

June 29, 1997|Rolando Cordera Campos | Rolando Cordera Campos is a political economist and the director of the weekly TV show "Nexos."

MEXICO CITY — Mexico seems ready for a democratic lunch next month. The contest for the mayoralty of Mexico City, the race with the highest profile, has been competitive and fair. Indeed, the ghost of electoral fraud is nowhere to be seen or heard. Remarkably, this political condition prevails throughout most of the country.

For the first time in Mexican political history, the outcomes of the elections, from congressional to gubernatorial, are not preordained, although the most likely winner in Mexico City's mayoral race is Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the leader of the center-left opposition. In 1988, then-presidential candidate Cardenas easily won Mexico City, and his closet associate, Porfirio Munoz Ledo, also defeated the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) candidate for the Senate seat representing the Federal District. This history--that Mexico's capital was already pro-opposition even before the political and economic storms of the Salinas presidency--is the main reason why Cardenas is expected to triumph on July 6.

In other elections, six state governorships are being contested. In at least two of them, especially in Nuevo Leon, the industrial capital of Mexico, the opposition might win. Moreover, though most surveys indicate that PRI candidates will win most of their congressional races, nobody is predicting that the longtime ruling party will keep its majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

The mayoral race in Mexico City is attracting the most media attention because, for the first time ever, the city's next mayor will be elected by popular vote instead of being appointed by the president. That democratic innovation has attracted an unusually strong field of candidates, including Cardenas.

The PRI candidate, Alfredo del Mazo, is a well-known party heavyweight. He has held several posts in past administrations, including Cabinet jobs and the governorship of the state of Mexico. The son of a prominent '60s politician, Del Mazo nearly became the PRI's presidential candidate in the 1988 elections. Carlos Salinas de Gortari was eventually chosen by President Miguel de la Madrid that year.

The candidate of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) is Carlos Castillo Peraza, a past PAN president and the man responsible for the party's most impressive electoral victories ever.

Although all candidates have addressed the issues facing one of the most ungovernable, polluted and overpopulated cities in the world, the PRI and the PAN have conducted "dirty" campaigns whose sole mission is to present Cardenas as a violent character who will bring ruin not only to the city but to the whole country. Cardenas, because he holds a comfortable lead, has maintained a more sober tone.

But the outcome of the congressional elections may have far more meaningful political consequences both for the country and for the presidentialist system that has been the norm in Mexico. If, as the polls now indicate, the PRI looses its majority in the Chamber of Deputies, there will arise a whole new political system in Mexico. A lower House divided into nearly three equal factions, coupled with a Mexico City mayoralty in the hands of an opposition party, would consolidate the country's democratic transition and create a real possibility for political alternation.

But such a scenario would certainly test the political skills of President Ernesto Zedillo. No PRI president in 60-plus years has ever had to co-exist with a multi-headed political opposition. No PRI president has ever had to negotiate agreements with three parties, including his own, simply in order to govern Mexico.

The rise of this potential democratic moment in Mexico chiefly stems from the establishment of a new institutional framework for electoral politics, the most dynamic force driving Mexican politics today. Political reform in Mexico has a long and tiresome history. But in 1994, rapid democratization underscored the need for changes that would inject greater competition into political races.

During the Salinas presidency, and especially since 1994, the main goal of political reform has been to create an electoral authority clearly independent of the government and able to resolve electoral disputes. Thus was born the Federal Electoral Institute and its general electoral counsel made up of nine members elected by at least two-thirds of the Chamber of Deputies. The institute approves the registration of new political parties and associations, sets campaign spending limits and determines parties' access to the media.

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