- The Washington Times - Monday, July 7, 2003

From combined dispatches

MEXICO CITY — Mexicans voted in crucial midterm elections yesterday and were expected to penalize President Vicente Fox for his unfulfilled promises by denying his conservative party control of the lower house of Congress.

Exit polls by three Mexican television stations showed that Mr. Fox’s National Action Party, or PAN, trailed the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose 71-year rule he ended in the 2000 presidential elections.

According to an independent Mitofsky exit poll, the PRI remained almost steady, winning an estimated 203 of the 500 seats in Mexico’s lower house of Congress. But PAN appeared likely to see its congressional delegation drop by more than 15 percent to 168 seats.

The biggest gainer, according to exit polls, was the leftist Democratic Revolution Party with an estimated 99 seats, up from 56.

Turnout appeared to be low in many areas in what was widely seen as a referendum on Mr. Fox’s presidency.

Mr. Fox, 61, came to power amid high hopes, but he has failed to deliver the strong economic growth he promised. His most important reforms have been watered down or blocked in Congress by the PRI.

“Fox has a good image — there is no doubt he is a good person — but he has no political skills. He doesn’t know how to work with the other parties,” said Antonio de la Cruz, a 42-year-old taco-stall holder, as he waited to vote in a working-class district of Mexico City.

“We were deceived. We thought he was better, but now we think we’ll go to the PRI again,” said Angel Hernandez, a coffee farmer, after voting in the market town of Cuetzalan, high in mountains southeast of the capital.

Control of the lower house by PAN would boost Mr. Fox’s hopes of pushing through reforms to make labor laws more flexible and increase private investment in the electricity sector.

Some voters said Mr. Fox deserves the chance to run the country the way he wants.

“We have to be patient. We have to give Fox three years with a Congress in his favor so he can work and solve the country’s problems. If it stays the same, they will be three lost years,” said Arnulfo Cordoba, a 58-year-old retired postman, as he lined up to vote.

The PRI is the largest party in Congress and says it will emerge even stronger from the elections. That would allow it to control reform negotiations and could set it up for a return to the presidency in 2006.

Voting places opened 8 a.m., with almost 65 million people eligible to cast ballots. Six state governors, and some mayors and local council members also will be chosen.

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