* Ask Mexicans who they think has a chance of beating the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate for president in 2000, and high on the list figures National Action Party member Vincente Fox.

But that is not music to the ears of many in the PAN hierarchy -

mainly because they do not agree with the businessman-cum-politician's idea for a national ``democratic coalition'' as the means for ousting the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI.

Mexicans who speak of Mr. Fox as a potential president cite his charisma, ability to reach beyond the PAN's traditional middle-class supporters to the working class and poor, and forceful, no-nonsense rhetoric.

The latter comes across when talking with Fox about forming political coalitions. ``It's the only way we're going to get rid of these guys and get a democracy in here,'' says the farmer from Guanajuato State. ``As long as the opposition continues to split its votes, we'll never slay this monster,'' he adds, referring to the PRI.

The former legislator agrees his party's leaders ``have an argument'' when they say a coalition with other parties would imply a subordination of the PAN's principles. ``But when you're fighting for democracy,'' he rejoins, ``that's the value. Once you've reached that goal,'' he continues, then you can put your ideology first.''

Saying he wants democracy for Mexico ``sooner, not later,'' he adds, ``If we follow the PAN leadership's strategy of gradualism - first the local level, then the state, finally the federal - I figure it would take us 500 years to win half the Congress.''

In the August elections, the PAN won at least 120 seats in Mexico's lower house. But that showing disappointed many PAN-istas, who had expected that the PAN might win a majority in Congress.

The once - and possibly future - Guanajuato gubernatorial candidate may get to test his coalition theory, with speculation running high that the state organizations of the PAN and the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party will join hands to support Fox for governor in elections next May.

But he insists his real interest is in promoting democracy - not in being governor or president. ``If I continue working the coalition idea with independent politicians, business people, intellectuals, I think I can get a consensus - not around me, but around this idea.''

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