- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2001

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Vicente Fox, even as he wins rave reviews from Washington to Quebec City, is finding it much tougher to get his proposals through a Mexican legislature where even his own party is sometimes hostile.
Congress spring session ends on Monday, and Mexican federal lawmakers have been proving both that they have unprecedented independence from the government, and also that they are not quite sure what to do with it.
Mr. Fox, meanwhile, has found he cannot rely on the loyalty of his own National Action Party (PAN), which has failed to support an Indian rights bill it feels could threaten the unity of the state.
"The PAN may be theoretically the governing party, but it is not acting that way," says political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo.
"Being the governing party doesnt mean necessarily being submissive to the president, but it does mean identifying with the government and the governments project, and thats not happening."
The change occurred last year, when Mr. Fox became the first opposition candidate in Mexicos history to be popularly elected.
President Bush, who traveled to Mr. Foxs ranch in February to praise the new president, has been openly friendly. Mr. Fox also won plaudits for his diplomatic efforts at the recent Summit of the Americas in Quebec City.
But no single party won control of either the Senate or the lower house, known as the Chamber of Deputies, in the July elections, complicating Mr. Foxs domestic agenda.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had held power for 71 years, now holds only 211 of the 500 seats in the lower house, and lost the majority it used to hold in the 128-seat Senate. The PAN has 207 seats, and the leftist Democratic Revolution Party has 51. Smaller parties hold the remaining seats.
The PRI remains uncoordinated as a result of the leadership crisis that began with the loss of the presidency.
As a result, key parts of the governments economic and political agenda are in limbo.
Hardest hit has been the fiscal reform package, which would impose a 15 percent tax on food and some medicines not currently taxed. The proposal has been widely criticized by the PRI, the Democratic Revolution and members of the PAN as a way to tax the poor.
Lawmakers announced last Wednesday that due to the controversy over the measure, which proposed eliminating the sales-tax exemptions to boost Mexicos meager tax revenue, they would not debate the measure during this legislative period.
Finance Minister Francisco Gil immediately began pushing for extraordinary sessions in May or June. Waiting until the next period in September would weaken Mr. Foxs ability to meet social spending promises.
At the same time, Mr. Foxs hands are tied in his efforts to sign a peace accord with the Zapatista rebels of Chiapas. Despite the presidents repeated invitations to start peace talks, the rebels have made it quite clear that they will not go to the table until Congress approves an indigenous rights bill Mr. Fox sent to the Senate immediately after taking office in December.
The bill is expected to be put to the vote in the Senate by next week. If passed, it would go straight to the Chamber of Deputies.
Despite the progress, several lawmakers, particularly from the PAN, are unhappy about supporting reforms they feel could threaten the unity of the state.
The tension between Mr. Fox and his party over the Indian rights bill boiled over last month when PAN deputies and senators defied him by voting against allowing masked Zapatistas to address them from the parliamentary podium.
The rebels did in the end speak to a session boycotted by most PAN members. The walkout was a clear message to the president that he should not take his partys loyalty for granted, say observers.
"The indigenous rights bill is a Fox priority, and the PAN feels under no obligation to support him," says Mr. Crespo.
Many PAN lawmakers felt snubbed by Mr. Fox during his presidential campaign, when he marginalized them in order to seek votes beyond the partys traditional right-wing constituency.
After the victory, they felt further ignored when the president picked most of his Cabinet from outside party ranks, and are now fuming that he has not made more effort to seek their support in the legislature.
Mr. Crespo said Mr. Fox should begin increasing the PANs influence within the public administration, and eventually within the Cabinet, to repair his relations with the party.
The opposition PRIs position on both the indigenous rights bill and the fiscal reform measure is the most undefined of any party.
Having lost the presidency, this particularly heterogeneous party lost the glue that helped keep it together and in power for decades. The party has failed to decide on a new national leadership, although it has managed to stave off total disintegration.
The leadership crisis was put on display when party bloc leaders allowed PRI legislators a free vote over whether to allow the Zapatistas to address the legislature.
Congressional deputies voted in favor, while the Senate was split.

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