Mexico appears headed for the political turning point it's been approaching for over a decade. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in power for 71 years, could be dethroned.
That prospect has Mexicans in something of a quandary.
The growing popularity of opposition presidential candidate Vicente Fox indicates that millions of voters are losing their long attachment to the PRI. Mr. Fox now polls almost neck and neck with ruling-party candidate Francisco Labastida.
A televised debate last week seemed to swing in Fox's direction. He had an opportunity to appeal to a mass audience through a largely state-controlled medium on which he's often negatively portrayed. And he was able to strike a more dignified, statesmanlike stance than is usually associated with this former Coca Cola executive who favors cowboy attire.
Fox's theme is change, but are a majority of Mexicans ready for it?
The PRI, for all its heavy-handed, often-corrupt rule, has represented stability. But the last two PRI presidents have been determined reformers.
Outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo has broken fresh ground politically, including refusing to hand-pick his successor within the party, as had been the tradition.
Mexico's states have continued to elect governors from parties other than the PRI, especially from Fox's center-right National Action Party.
It's likely that either main candidate, if elected, would continue the free-market economic reforms of recent years in order to merge Mexico more fully into the global economy. Either would have to show leadership and creativity in addressing his country's deep-set problems of corruption, drug-trafficking violence, and endemic poverty.
Whoever wins, Mexico has the potential to continue its political opening and serve as a democratic anchor in a region where many of its neighbors show signs of slipping back toward authoritarianism.
The PRI's loosening grip on Mexican political life is a hopeful sign. Those truly committed to reform, including President Zedillo, must do all they can to assure the July 2 election is a model of fairness.
Let the international observers in, and squelch any hint of the vote-fixing the PRI has been notorious for in the past. A verifiably clean election will in itself be a turning point.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society