Mexico Hears the World

News travels fast these days and Mexico's president, Vicente Fox, knows quickly when the world smells something fishy. By weighing a pardon for opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico City's wildly popular leftist mayor, who may be charged for a minor offense, Mr. Fox aims to stop a global perception that he and others might be trying to rig the 2006 presidential vote.

The perception is not unwarranted. Last week, Mexico's congress, including members of Fox's National Action Party (PAN), voted to get rid of immunity for Mr. Obrador - something elected officials in Mexico enjoy - thus opening the way for criminal charges against him, a clearly politically motivated move that under Mexican law would keep Obrador out of the race.

Obrador was accused of ignoring a court order to stop construction of a road, a minor offense hardly typical of the widespread corruption in Mexico. Indeed, recent protests in the capital over congress's decision show the public's sensitivity to such blatant political shenanigans.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) ruled Mexico with an iron hand for 70 years before Fox and the PAN took the presidency in 2000 and put Mexico on the road to improved democracy. If he pardons Obrador, Fox demonstrates his respect for the rule of law and the will of the people in a free and fair election - both basic elements of a democracy.

The US said the issue remains an internal Mexican affair. Obrador's leftist views may not be consistent with the Bush administration's. But the US, too, has a responsibility to support clean elections in its neighbor, regardless of who wins Mexico's presidency.

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