Voters give Mexico democracy Opposition wins: One-party state evolves into multi-party competition.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE ELECTION Sunday made Mexico a more acceptable neighbor and partner in the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Though midterm, it was the most important this century because it divided power and was respected.

It vindicated President Ernesto Zedillo, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) took a drubbing. He had established a Federal Electoral Institute to run a fair election. A one-party monopoly of power has given way without violence to the wishes of the people.

For the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the legislature, PRI came in first but short of a majority. The right-wing opposition National Action Party (PAN) came in second and left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) a close third. Mr. Zedillo will be the first Mexican president to deal with an opposition legislature since 1913. PAN apparently won two of the six governorships, giving it six out of the nation's 31. In Mexico City, the leader of PRD was elected mayor, the first to be elected rather than appointed since 1928.

PRI, the longest-entrenched ruling party in the world, is the product of the Mexican Revolution, which preceded Russia's and created its own leftist ideology. Like left-of-center parties everywhere, it has borrowed economic ideas of its conservative opposition to survive. But the party's corruption grew beyond control. That and the collapse of the peso shortly after Mr. Zedillo took office, wiping out the savings of Mexicans, provoked the voter backlash.

The rightist PAN, with roots in the Catholic church and provincial business, emerges as the main institutional opposition. But the old leftist, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, becomes the dominant opposition personality. He won the 1988 election for president only to have it stolen, and fared poorly in a 1994 rerun. Now he will make news daily in the national capital. This does not guarantee him the 2000 presidency. He will also be blamed for the smog and the crime.

His father, Gen. Lazaro Cardenas, was the hugely popular president, 1934 to 1940, who nationalized the oil industry. Himself a pillar of PRI, the younger Cardenas deserted to keep its principles when the party went centrist. Not for nothing did his father name him for Cuauhtemoc, who led the resistance to Mexican conquerors when Montezuma appeased them, who fought on as the last Aztec emperor, lost the final battle, surrendered and was hanged in captivity. The name Cuauhtemoc signifies patriotism, faithfulness, resistance and lost causes.

It was a real election. Mexico can never go back.

Pub Date: 7/08/97

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