Report from Mexico

The dinosaurs & the fox

Mexico city. Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has controlled the nation’s presidency by hook and often by crook since the 1920s, is struggling to hold on to the presidential palace in Mexico City come election day July 2. Several polls in late May showed the PRI candidate, Francisco Labastida, neck-and-neck with Vicente Fox, the nominee of the center-right National Action Party (PAN). Both the situation and the electorate are fluid, if not volatile.
Until recently, the smart money rested on Labastida, a bland, competent former governor and cabinet member. Although the average Mexican scorns the ruling party’s record of ballot-box stuffing and foul play, the PRI’s relatively generous welfare state and array of agricultural subsidies continue to appeal to millions of poor and working-class voters. As a consequence, Labastida entered the race with a formidable lead in the polls, despite his party’s unsavory past.

Historically, Mexico’s presidents have been handpicked by the incumbent chief executive. That changed last year with a four-candidate party primary that was open to all citizens. This procedure, promoted by sitting President Ernesto Zedillo to "consolidate democracy," offered several advantages for the much-criticized PRI: it activated the party’s often creaky grassroots machinery, lofted Labastida’s name recognition, and invested the nominee with much-needed legitimacy....

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About the Author

George Grayson, who teaches government at the College of William & Mary, has written Mexico: The Changing of the Guard, published by the Foreign Policy Association in New York.