- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

MEXICO CITY — President Vicente Fox, humbled by midterm election losses and a sluggish economy, dropped his normally triumphalist tone and acknowledged in his third state-of-the-nation address yesterday that the “lags and challenges we face remain huge.”

Speaking to new lawmakers who will shape the last three years of his term, Mr. Fox promised to strengthen his often-rocky relationship with his country’s Congress.

In an advance copy of his speech sent to reporters, he also recognized “complaints of a lack of experience and calls for better management in government as a whole.”

“Mexico demands better results of us,” he said. “I once more tell those who work by my side that we are under an obligation to redouble our efforts and not lose sight of the fact that teamwork is a prerequisite for good government.”

He appointed a commissioner to coordinate the federal government’s participation in solving a string of killings in the rough border city of Ciudad Juarez.

In response, several female lawmakers held up signs that read, “Not one more” victim.

His historic victory in July 2000 wrested the presidency from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which had held it for 71 years. He promised jobs, higher wages and a migration accord with the United States.

But he was frustrated in part by a divided Congress that his own party did not control. After the July congressional election, in which his National Action Party lost one-quarter of its seats in the lower house, he will face the same for the final half of his six-year term.

His speech kicked off the congressional session. Mr. Fox could spend the rest of his term as hamstrung as in the first half unless he manages to persuade Congress to pass some version of his tax, energy and labor reforms and reactivate the slow economy.

The lack of big public-works and infrastructure efforts drew complaints from business leaders in Mr. Fox’s first three years, and he has hinted he may put more emphasis there to spark the economy.

But experts differ on how much Mr. Fox can expect from the newly elected Congress. Mr. Fox’s party now holds 151 seats in the 500-seat lower house, versus the PRI’s 222.

He controls neither Congress, nor the Senate, has no preponderance in local or state governments, and lacks the PRI’s political machinery. Legislators have challenged some of Mr. Fox’s actions in court, something seldom done in the past.

And following July’s election setback, he no longer has the momentum of “democratic transition.”

In fact, soon after the elections, Mr. Fox acknowledged his own lame-duck status.

“The truth is that each party and every individual already has eyes set on 2006,” Mr. Fox said earlier. “The presidential succession has already started.”

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