Ups and Downs in Mexico

Mexican politics continues its roller coaster ride toward reform. In July the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) seemed ready to cooperate in efforts to change electoral law and allow fairer competition. But the PRI has now backed away.

Wielding its still-hefty majority in the Mexican Congress, the party last week chipped away at reform measures that would have mandated lower limits on campaign spending and more equitable distribution of public funding and free broadcast time.

PRI loyalists have reason for concern about their party's future. Opposition parties, notably the right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) have made significant inroads. The PAN is estimated to govern some 37 percent of Mexicans, holding four governorships and 247 mayoralties. The major opposition on the left, the Democratic Revolution Party, also has won a number of state and local offices.

PRI planners shake in their boots over next year's congressional elections, and the first-ever popular election for mayor of Mexico City, considered the most powerful political post after the presidency. Polls show the PAN strongly favored in that race.

Uneasily occupying the president's chair is Ernesto Zedillo, a PRI politician who vows to clean up and open Mexico's political system, but whose ability to do so remains in doubt. He endorsed PRI efforts to roll back electoral reforms in Congress.

But such efforts stand against a tide of events and history. The Mexican economy continues to teeter, with the earning power of many average people deteriorating. Corruption and violence are common, with headlines of simmering insurrections, rampant drug trafficking, and politically motivated killings. Many voters look for something other than the PRI's mix of paternalism and patronage.

The ruling party retains a considerable residue of support. But its grip is being pried open, and in the long run that is good news for Mexico and all who hope for its progress.

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