Is Fox a Lame Duck?

Mexico's mid-term elections Sunday looked a lot like those in the United States. The message for President Vicente Fox and his conservative National Action Party (PAN) was one US voters often signal: It's time for results. For a country that only recently moved beyond one-party rule, that's progress.

Voters were disappointed over what the new administration, greeted with euphoria in 2000, hasn't accomplished. Mr. Fox's win that year - fueled by Mexicans fed up with years of government corruption and ineffectiveness - ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) 71-year iron grip on power.

This time, however, the PAN got a strong drubbing, although turnout was historically low. Election returns so far show the opposition PRI gaining at least 15 seats in Mexico's Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) once all the votes are counted. That gives the PRI a wider margin as the largest party in the Mexican Chamber; no party has a majority. By contrast, Mr. Fox's PAN looks to have lost at least 44 seats.

Indeed, Fox has not delivered on his promises of economic reforms and new jobs. He also is blamed for an economy that shrank during his first year and grew by just 0.9 percent last year.

The 9/11 attacks in the US complicated his efforts to improve relations with Mexico's northern neighbor - quashing, for example, an important deal with the Bush administration to legalize millions of undocumented Mexicans living in the US.

By law, Fox cannot succeed himself. His term has a six-year limit, and he has until 2006 to achieve his goals. Without a clear mandate for change, Fox now needs to ask voters for patience, even as he rallies support for his reforms and works to build consensus in Congress. Such consensus has kept Mexico stable in the past when other Latin American countries were in turmoil.

Now that the country has broken free of one-party rule, Mexico's elected officials must learn how competing political parties can work together for the common good. Mexico cannot afford to wait, or wade, through a three-year lame-duck period.

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