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Watershed Election for Mexico

Mexico is two days from what will certainly be the freest and fairest--and the most competitive--presidential election in the country’s restive history. Gone with this campaign will be the certain lock of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, now faced with democratic competition from two strong rivals. The old assurance of a PRI victory has been swept away by a clean and steady wind. Democracy awaits if the Mexicans will embrace it.

No national party leader will flatly predict victory in Sunday’s voting, and this uncertainty has heightened anxiety in some quarters. But the electorate should take comfort in the new rules of the electoral game, which have been clearly spelled out and are subject to close monitoring.

The economy is stable, and while the benefits of the free market have yet to buoy the common people, the country is in reasonably good economic shape. Yes, two radical groups remain up in arms in southern Mexico, but their impact on the daily life of most Mexicans is minimal. Solving these conflicts should be a priority for the next president, but they do not pose the danger to civil life that they did in the last national election, in 1994.

The political transformation has been steady but sure since the country’s 1977 electoral reforms, which opened the way for the participation of opposition parties. Far greater progress came with a series of reforms in the 1990s, culminating in 1996 when the organization of federal elections was taken away from the government and given to the autonomous Federal Electoral Institute.

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Today the PRI faces a level of opposition unimaginable a few years ago. The two main opposition parties, the National Action Party (PAN) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), govern in almost half of Mexico’s 31 states and in more than half of the state capitals.

Credit for this dramatic change goes to the Federal Electoral Institute. Charged with ensuring a free and fair vote, it has given credibility to the electoral process. The institute, the Mexican government and all political parties have welcomed international observers to Sunday’s balloting. That shows confidence and courage. The stage has been set. The decision is now in the hands of the Mexican voters.


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