Mexican Challenger Tries to Light Voters' Fires
After soaring to the top of presidential polls in May, Fernandez dropped from public view. He now hopes a media blitz can restore his prospects for ending the ruling party's 65-year rule.
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In the last presidential election, the center-left candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano received a big boost from people dissatisfied with PRI rule. But this time, analysts say, concerns about security may prejudice voters against Mr. Cardenas and the left, which is associated with political unrest.
This past week, the PAN, seeking the protest vote, has added to its slogan ``Mexico without lies,'' a slogan to reassure voters: ``Diego - a safe change.''
Although the Fernandez meteoric rise was unexpected, PAN has been a pro-Catholic, pro-business fixture in Mexican politics since 1939. It holds three state governorships (the only opposition party to hold any) and has 89 seats in the 500-seat lower house, making it the second political force in Congress.
Fernandez, leader of the PAN congressional deputies, comes from the moderate and pragmatic wing of the party. During the Salinas administration, he formed a working alliance with the PRI deputies to pass reforms on issues such as privatization, trade, and church-state relations.
These ties, and the closeness of PAN and PRI political policies, has caused problems for Fernandez. He is attacked both within and outside of the party for working with the enemy.
But Fernandez firmly denies being in league with Salinas. ``They say that I'm going to win the presidency thanks to a dirty, two-faced, cheating, immoral deal,'' he says. ``If you want to know if I'm the president's candidate, don't ask me, ask him, because if he's going to vote for me, I won't try to dissuade him.''
Questions of religion
Fernandez's self-declared militant Roman Catholicism worries some Mexican voters. ``He's too close to the Catholic Church. He'll be under their control,'' says Margarita Cazares, a teacher in Mexico City. ``What's that going to mean for non-Catholic churches? Or population control?''
Fernandez is sensitive to the criticism: ``I'm Catholic. But if I become president, I will not favor any religion or church. As for [religious] persecution, it's unjust.''
The PAN candidate offended female voters shortly after his May debate by publicly using the term viejerio, slang for ``old women.'' And he has had to explain why the father of four children (one outside of wedlock) has never had a standard civil wedding, just a religious ceremony. Answering a question about his anti-abortion stance, Fernandez now seems to want to show his compassion for women.
``We need to find just paths for women,'' he says. ``How many women abort because their husbands force them to? How many women abort to keep from losing their job or to get a job? How many women abort because they have no way to feed the children they have? We need to find new solutions so women don't see taking the life of their child as a solution.''
To win, PAN officials say they need a high voter turnout. This is the closest race in Mexican history. But after decades of PRI rule, democratic change is a concept difficult for many to accept.
``Diego's got style,'' says Jose, an amiable sandwich vender with a punk haircut and the word ``poison'' tatooed on his left forearm. ``But the PRI will win. It always wins.''