- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

MEXICO CITY President-elect Vicente Fox, whose election stunned the nation and ended the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year monopoly of Mexican presidency, sought to reassure his countrymen yesterday that he would work toward a stable transition.

"We awake to a different situation: With complete stability … the country is going ahead normally," said Mr. Fox, in a broadcast yesterday on independent Radio Red.

Defying opinion polls that had predicted a close race, the PRI was decisively beaten in Sunday's election by Mr. Fox of the National Action Party (PAN), who over the course of the campaign had managed to turn the election into a plebiscite on the ruling party.

"We cannot fail because we have awakened too many expectations, too many dreams and desires," Mr. Fox said.

He had kind words for defeated ruling party candidate Francisco Labastida and outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo.

Mr. Fox met with Mr. Zedillo yesterday afternoon to discuss the unprecedented transition and said afterwards that they agreed to work together for a peaceful and orderly transition. He said they would together formulate the budget proposal that Mr. Zedillo must send to Congress before Mr. Fox takes office.

Investors appeared buoyed by the election. Mexico's stock market closed up 6.1 percent, and the Mexican peso rose sharply against the dollar.

In an interview earlier with the Associated Press, Mr. Fox said he would form "a very transparent, accountable government. We will have moral authority and democratic legitimacy."

The president-elect set about his new duties yesterday, meeting the PRI's 21 state governors in private.

With 91 percent of the vote counted yesterday, Mr. Fox held 43 percent, the PRI's Francisco Labastida, 36 percent, and left-wing veteran Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, 17 percent. Turnout was 74 percent, according to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which organized what was generally considered to be the freest and fairest elections in Mexican history.

Fraud had marked most earlier elections held under PRI rule.

Mr. Fox's PAN is also set to become the biggest party in Congress and the Senate, seats for which were also at stake Sunday, while Mr. Cardenas' Democratic Revolution Party can take some consolation in keeping control of the mayorship of Mexico City.

The new government is due to take office on Dec. 1, three months after the new Congress and Senate begin work, but the transition away from what was essentially a one-party government began minutes after the electoral authorities released an exit poll that made it clear the PRI had lost.

In a historic national address that stunned the nation perhaps even more than the electoral-count figures, a sober Mr. Zedillo congratulated Mr. Fox on his victory.

"I commit myself to ensuring a smooth and transparent hand-over of power," he said soon after the results were clear, to the amazement of many who had doubted that the governing party would so quickly accept the end of its reign.

Like Mr. Zedillo, Mr. Labastida also acknowledged defeat quickly, in a terse speech before disoriented supporters who had gathered to celebrate yet another victory in the PRI campaign headquarters.

"Our party is still alive, and it will stay alive and know how to recuperate," he said with as much conviction as he could muster.

Yesterday, Mr. Fox received congratulatory phone calls from around the world, including one from President Clinton, who also telephoned Mr. Zedillo to praise the advances of democracy in Mexico.

Former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, an election observer, called it "a truly historic sea change in the politics of Mexico."

"It can't mean anything but good in terms of U.S. interests," Mr. Baker said in an interview.

Despite scattered accusations of irregularities, the IFE called the elections "exemplary," and the election was also given the stamp of approval from international and national electoral observers, including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who had spread out around the country.

Dirty tricks, and sometimes blatant fraud, have been the hallmark of Mexican elections in the past, aiding the PRI to stay in power for so long.

But under pressure to democratize, the party in recent years has gradually allowed opposition parties to win power at lower levels of government and accepted electoral reforms that have made cheating much more difficult, culminating in the creation of the genuinely independent IFE in 1996.

Meanwhile, although clearly jubilant, Mr. Fox has carefully avoided rubbing salt too deeply into the PRI's cavernous wound, calling on supporters to be generous in victory and avoid revenge, more than aware that the current meekness of the defeated party could disappear when the extent of its loss sinks in.

He has promised to form a government including representatives from all political parties, even the PRI, and stressed that the thousands of lower-level bureaucrats who for so long have been associated with the governing party should not fear for their jobs.

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