- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2000

Mexico's rough-and-tumble presidential campaign came to Washington yesterday with representatives from each of three leading parties leveling charges of lying and fraud in the run-up to the July 2 elections.

The No. 1 opposition candidate, Vincente Fox, "keeps lying, saying he is ahead in the opinion polls," said Francisco Guerrero, representing the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and its candidate, Francisco Labastida.

"The PRI doesn't win elections, it buys them and when it can't buy them it steals them," said Carlos Heredia, of the left-wing Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD) representing Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the former mayor of Mexico City.

"Any democracy we have in Mexico has been in spite of the PRI," said Carlos Salazar, of the center-right National Action Party (PAN) representing Mr. Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive who has surprised virtually everyone by seriously challenging the PRI's overwhelming political dominance.

Such talk might be considered too extreme for U.S. presidential candidates, but the visitors at a Heritage Foundation symposium yesterday had few inhibitions.

Much is at stake.

For the first time in 71 years the PRI's stranglehold on Mexico's political landscape is under assault. Most of the opposition, from the left and the right, agree that ousting the PRI is the single most important issue in this year's presidential race.

At the moment, most polls show Mr. Labastida and Mr. Fox within a few percentage points of each other. If Mr. Cardenas, whose numbers run in the teens, would agree to persuade his followers to vote for Mr. Fox, whose free-market economic policies he abhors, it likely would mean a huge margin of victory for Mr. Fox.

Negotiations to create an alliance between the PRD and the PAN fell apart last September. But yesterday, Mr. Heredia suggested that a left-right alliance to oust PRI was still a possibility.

He said that the PRD would not abandon its "Mexico-centric" economic policies, which contrast sharply with the free-market globalization espoused by Mr. Fox. But he agreed that the end of PRI would be the beginning of democracy in Mexico.

"What will happen between now and July 2, I don't know," said Mr. Heredia.

Mr. Heredia and Mr. Salazar both said that Mexico's federal election commission was independent and doing what it could to ensure free and fair elections. But both also charged that the PRI would use its access to government funds to persuade voters.

"Vote buying doesn't take place on election day. It goes on 365 days a year," said Mr. Heredia. "We are trying to level the playing field. The PRI should compete as a political party, without the federal budget in its pocket."

Mr. Guerrero rejected the charge, saying this election would be observed by thousands of independent poll watchers. He accused the opposition of hypocrisy.

"When they win an election they have won 11 governorships then democracy is real. When they lose, then democracy is not real," said Mr. Guerrero. "Of course they are going to lose. And everyone will be watching. The opposition should not be afraid of losing."

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