June 29, 2000
Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles reports on the final days of campaigning in Mexico's most competitive presidential race in seven decades.
JEFFREY KAYE: Mexico's ruling party has perfected the art of the mass rally. The Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, has reigned for 71 years. The PRI's hold on power permeates the machinery of government, and is reflected in the huge crowds it mobilizes for its election campaigns.
|A modern Mexico|
FRANCISCO LABASTIDA, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): (speaking through interpreter) I will work in the spirit of the best men of this party to create a populist government.
JEFFREY KAYE: Francisco Labastida is the PRI's candidate for president. He is in a tight race with high stakes; unless he wins Sunday's election, the PRI will lose control of the presidency for the first time since it was formed in 1929. A defeat would hasten the PRI's gradually-loosening grip on power.
VICENTE FOX, National Action Party, (PAN): (speaking through interpreter) We lack leadership. We lack good government. We lack honest government.
JEFFREY KAYE: In recent years, opposition candidates and parties have made significant inroads, attacking corruption and appealing for economic reforms. Vicente Fox is Labastida's main rival in Sunday's election. Fox is the presidential candidate of the National Action Party, or PAN, a party with close ties to the Catholic Church. Campaigning among urbanites, professionals, and young adults, Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive and state governor, rails against what he calls an authoritarian regime. Polls indicate Fox is neck-in-neck with Labastida. The prospects of a Labastida defeat, and of the PRI losing the presidency, coincide with political and economic changes that have taken place in Mexico, says Mexican political scientist Denise Dresser.
DENISE DRESSER, Political Scientist: Political reform and economic reform in Mexico for the past decade have gone hand-in-hand. We've witnessed the emergence of a more modern Mexico, economically speaking; a Mexico that has embraced free trade, globalization, economic liberalization.
JEFFREY KAYE: To address poverty, unemployment, and high crime rates, Mexico's federal government has encouraged foreign investment and exports. At the same time, electoral reforms have empowered opposition parties. In 1997, despite a history of fraudulent elections, the PRI for the first time lost its majority in the lower house of Congress. Voters also elected as mayor of Mexico City Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, a prominent leftist opposition politician. Cardenas is also running for president, though lagging a distant third. Opposition parties now govern ten of Mexico's 31 states; that's half the population. And in regions where trade, exports, and a middle class have flourished -- mostly in the north -- PAN, the business- oriented opposition party, has had notable success.
DENISE DRESSER: Electorally speaking, we've witnessed the rise of opposition parties, the arrival of opposition parties to state governments, and the emergence of Mexican voters who are questioning the political system and who are advocating change.
JEFFREY KAYE: Politicians like Vicente Fox have made their mark streamlining state and local governments and fighting corruption. Fox says a clean break with the past is essential.
|PAN candidate Vincente Fox|
VICENTE FOX: Are we going to keep in place and in power this party dictatorship? I ask United States audiences, which country that has had 71 years of the same government -- not even communism. And Mexico, we're in that problem. Why the levels of corruption and drug traffic in Mexico? Because we have a monopoly in power, and because they inherit power from one to another, and because they have what they call the golden rule whereby one president would never go against a former one. He will cover up whatever the former one did.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fox's anti-PRI campaign has attracted young voters. His promises to cut inflation and to spur regional development and trade have also earned him support among Mexico's business and professional class. In the town of San Pablo Del Monte in the central state of Tlaxcala, Alberto Cano is a staunch Fox supporter who's running for Congress on the PAN ticket. Cano is a sales representative of factory that makes glazed pottery. Cano claims that bankers affiliated with the PRI don't provide decent credit to political opponents. He believes small businesses like his will benefit from a Fox government.
ALBERTO CANO, National Action Party (PAN): (speaking through interpreter) We want to reactivate the economy and create jobs for people, but we don't have the economic capacity. We don't have the foreign investment with conditions to encourage them to invest. We think with Fox there will be more of an open market, a freer market where businesses like this can have access to bank credit at low interest rates.
JEFFREY KAYE: When Fox visited the town, Cano enthusiastically warmed up the crowd. And Fox gave an anti-PRI speech promising reform.
VICENTE FOX: (speaking through interpreter) We will remove PRI from the presidency. Our work will be to build bridges, to cross from a bad government of corruption and impunity to a government of competence and quality which answers to all the families of Mexico.
JEFFREY KAYE: Fox's reformist message also resonated with a more well- heeled audience in Mexico City. Corporate lawyers and other professionals turned out to hear Fox's proposals to overhaul the legal system. For Miguel Irurita and his wife Maria Luisa Campro, Fox represents basic change.
JEFFREY KAYE: Why do you like Fox?~
MARIA LUISA CAMPRO: Because I want a better future for my children and I want the PRI out of...
JEFFREY KAYE: Why? What does Fox offer that PRI does not?
MARIA LUISA CAMPRO: He's honest.
JEFFREY KAYE: Honest.
MARIA LUISA CAMPRO: Honest, which is very important.
MIGUEL IRURITA: We were born... At least the guys from our age... We were born in a crisis. I was born in 1965, 1967, around there, since I've been born and I know when I have knowledge, I have always been in a crisis, a devaluation, a crisis for this, a crisis for that, and everybody has been promising changes. So at least Fox represents someone closer to us. So we have the chance to change our Mexico, our country, and to look for things differently.
JEFFREY KAYE: When he addressed the group, Fox said his government would have no tolerance for public corruption, narcotics trafficking, and crooked law enforcement.
VICENTE FOX: (speaking through interpreter) This regime does not have the prestige, the moral authority, or the willingness to make the changes that are required to put into place a real state of law. Impunity, corruption, and the violation of rights cannot be fought with the same methods that created them, or with the same people who tolerate them.
|PRI candidate Francisco Labastida|
JEFFREY KAYE: For his part, Labastida often touches on many of the same themes as Fox. Labastida is an economist and a career politician. He has served as a state governor and has held cabinet secretary posts in the PRI's last two presidential administrations. (Cheers and applause)
FRANCISCO LABASTIDA: (speaking through interpreter) The laws should protect the people, not the criminals. Someone is needed with the character and the decisiveness to get their hands on the crime problem, to get their arms around the problem of corruption in this country. And I want to tell you that I want to be your president, and I am asking for your support, because I'm sure I can do these things.
JEFFREY KAYE: Although Labastida has surrounded himself with long- time PRI stalwarts, he represents what the party calls the new PRI. As contradictory as its name sounds, the Institutional Revolutionary Party is both entrenched and reformist. Labastida presents himself as both an agent for change and the candidate of stability.
DENISE DRESSER: The genius of the PRI in comparison to other dominant parties throughout the world has been it's capacity for endless reinvention, its capacity to shift with the winds of change and to ride upon those winds.
JEFFREY KAYE: Labastida is the first PRI presidential candidate not to be hand-picked by the president in power.
FRANCISCO LABASTIDA: (speaking through interpreter) The PRI is a party in the process of change. It is not just one party. It is a party in the process of change, in the process of evolution. There's a saying that goes "the new has not yet been born and the old has not yet died." What's important is that people ask of PRI what do they want of this party. Where are we going to go with this party?
JEFFREY KAYE: By championing both the old and the new, Labastida hopes to appeal to his constituency, among them the busloads of party loyalists brought in to attend PRI rallies. For many, like Lucio Alvarado, support for the PRI is more an article of faith than a political conviction.
LUCIO ALVARADO, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): (speaking through interpreter) We stand for an educational system, an economic system, and for liberty. Let me make a comparison. We have had PRI for 70 years, yet we've had 500 years of religion, and we aren't going to leave that behind.
JEFFREY KAYE: With a busload of fellow villagers, Alvarado shared a ride of two hours each way to see Labastida speak. Back in their small farming village of Saucillo in the northern state of Chihuahua, the PRI is the dominant political presence.
MAN USING BULLHORN: Votas por los candidatos del PRI...
|Greater political openness|
JEFFREY KAYE: In villages like this, the PRI's roots run deep. This is where Labastida finds a base of support among older, less-educated, rural voters, government workers and women. Here, change and life come slowly. The PRI is such a part of the nation's establishment that many Mexicans are unable to distinguish between the party and the government. So PRI supporters credit the party with welfare programs and with public works projects; bridges, roads, and electricity. The historical connection to the PRI is too strong to abandon to an opposition party, says the town's PRI president, Ubaldo Ortiz, a high school teacher.
UBALDO ORTIZ, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI): We cannot support a drastic change in Mexico's political system. My parents, as a personal example, have lived their lives under a Mexican political system guided by the PRI. Thanks to that political structure, we have reached a social peace that has lasted until this day.
JEFFREY KAYE: That social peace is relative. In the past six years, Mexico has seen isolated guerrilla activity, as well as demonstrations by government workers wanting more money. The unrest is helping fuel the political opposition. So, too, is changed media coverage; reform legislation has required the PRI to loosen its reins on the press, giving opposition candidates more access, so that for the first time, according to political columnist and TV commentator Sergio Sarmiento, Mexicans are getting an unvarnished view of political campaigns.
SERGIO SARMIENTO, Political Journalist: In 1988, just to give you an example, 95 percent of all time on television was dedicated to the candidate of the ruling party, the PRI. And the other 5 percent was negative coverage. And today, if you look at the national media, the coverage of the three main candidates is roughly the same, about 25 percent for each one and the rest goes to the smaller parties.
JEFFREY KAYE: The media are not only providing more exposure to opposition candidates. In recent weeks, the Mexican press has focused on allegations of vote buying and influence peddling among government workers promoting the PRI. But despite fraudulent elections in the past, Mexico's Independent Federal Election Institute, which has been monitoring the campaigns, expects Sunday's voting will be the cleanest in history. Thousands of observers from Mexico and around the world will be present as monitors.