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Mexico: And now for the hard part


LOS ANGELES -- The stunning victory by Vicente Fox and his National Action Party, or PAN, in Sunday's Mexican presidential elections is a truly momentous step on the road to effective democratic governance, but it is only one step.

The most important challenges Mexico faces if it is to build true democracy remain ahead.

They are:

Can Mr. Fox and the leaders of PAN, after so many years in opposition without real prospects of exercising national responsibility, now develop the attitudes, expectations and practices that foster democracy?

Can Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and his defeated third party, the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, learn to behave as a constructive opposition?

Can the leaders of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, after generations of uninterrupted and nearly absolute power, develop the mode of democratic politics? Can they overcome authoritarian habits and attitudes and behave as one party among several?

Can the Mexican Congress function consistently as a forum for responsible decision-making and as a reasonable check on executive prerogatives, rather than becoming mainly an obstacle to needed legislation and policymaking?

Can the judiciary in Mexico, so long dependent and often corrupt, overcome familiar practices and long-vested interests to play its vital role as an independent branch of government?

Can the Mexican armed forces manage the difficult tensions that arise from their assigned roles in confronting guerrilla insurgencies and narcotics traffickers without becoming politicized?

Can the Mexican media, so long controlled and corrupted, continue to accelerate its evolution into a true "fourth estate" by developing higher professional standards, rewarding investigative journalism, overcoming cronyism and self-censorship and providing the reliable information needed for effective democratic governance?

Can non-governmental organizations in Mexico, the associations of civil society that have been growing in strength, develop the attitudes and practices appropriate to a democratic role in a multiparty context?

However difficult it was to unseat the PRI after 71 years in power, it is much easier to end an old system than to build a new one that works and to develop the democratic political culture that Mexico has never really known.

Abraham F. Lowenthal, is an international relations professor at the University of Southern California and founding president of the Pacific Council on International Policy. This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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