- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2006

CUERNAVACA, Mexico

Whoever emerges winner of Mex- ico’s cliffhanger presidential election will have to continue governing by consensus and deal with a divided Congress that has shifted slightly to the left but remains dominated by the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

Preliminary results from Sunday’s elections for the 500-member Chamber of Deputies and half of the 128-member Senate show that the PAN has lost seats in both houses but remains the largest bloc in both chambers, although still far short of a majority.

The left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) showed significant gains in both houses, while the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was reduced to a shadow of its former dominant position. The PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years before the PAN’s Vicente Fox won the presidency in 2000.

Under a complex proportional-representation formula, 200 members of the lower house are assigned and 300 members are elected directly. The Senate also has a mix of directly elected senators and those assigned according to which party carries each of the 31 states and the Federal District of Mexico City.

The Mexico City daily El Universal predicted that the PAN’s strength would decrease from 148 seats to 141 in the lower house and from 48 to 43 seats in the Senate. The PRD and two allied parties, meanwhile, are expected to increase from 97 to 110 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and from 15 to 26 in the Senate.

The PRI, allied with the small Green Party, is expected to drop from 203 seats in the lower house to 49 and from 58 seats to 27 in the Senate.

The presidential election, meanwhile, remained too close to call. Felipe Calderon of the PAN and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD, with about 36 percent of the vote each, claimed victory. Roberto Madrazo of the PRI was at 21.1 percent.

In other voting Sunday, the PRD easily retained control of the capital Federal District with Marcelo Ebrard elected mayor, considered the second most powerful post in the country. He received 47 percent to 27 percent for the PAN’s Demetrio Sodi and 21 percent for Beatriz Paredes of the PRI-Green coalition.

The PAN easily retained the governorship of Mr. Fox’s home state of Guanajuato, where Juan Manuel Oliva was leading with 59 percent of the votes. In Jalisco state, also held by the PAN, Emilio Gonzalez of the PAN had a lead of 45.2 percent to 41.1 percent for the PRI’s Arturo Zamora.

Here in Morelos state, where the PAN elected its first governor in 2000, the outcome remained in doubt yesterday. With 82 percent of the vote counted, the PAN’s Marco Adame had 36 percent, the PRD’s Francisco Martinez had 32 percent, and Maricela Sanchez of the PRI-Green alliance had 24.1 percent.

The incumbent PAN governor, Sergio Estrada, was elected with 57 percent of the vote in 2000, but two years ago, he was indicted on charges of colluding with the Juarez drug cartel.

“We were all surprised,” said Adolfo Aragoneses, 21, a computer engineering student at the University of Morelos who is the PRI-Green representative to the State Electoral Institute (IEE), which oversees elections. “Many people here in Morelos thought the PAN would lose this election. We thought Maricela would win, but she ran third.”

He attributed the decline in the PAN’s popularity here to Mr. Estrada’s drug scandal, to his failure to implement adequate water supply and to a prolonged garbage worker strike. He also attributed the PRD’s strong showing to the coattails of Mr. Lopez Obrador, who carried Morelos handily.

Whichever presidential candidate wins, he will have a shaky mandate of less than 40 percent of the vote. Like Mr. Fox, who received 42 percent, the winner will have to seek to govern by consensus with a fragmented Congress, which hamstrung many of Mr. Fox’s major programs.

Continued gridlock in Mexico City also may lead to a shift of power to state governors, which, during the days of PRI domination, essentially were appointed by the president. After the political reforms of the early 1990s, the states became testing grounds for the other parties, while the newly challenged PRI began taking governing more seriously. Mr. Fox served as governor of Guanajuato, Mr. Lopez Obrador as mayor of Mexico City, and Mr. Madrazo was governor of Tabasco. While the United States has red states and blue states, Mexico’s 31 states and the Federal District are red (PRI), blue (PAN) or yellow (PRD), the parties’ official colors.

The PAN’s power base is in the industrial and agriculturally rich north central region, where it controls five contiguous states: Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco, Queretaro and San Luis Potosi. Besides Morelos, it also controls Baja California Norte and Yucatan. But it has lost two states back to the PRI, Chihuahua in 1998 and Nuevo Leon in 2003, where the PAN governors failed to fulfill the high expectations for reform and progress they had promised.

Besides the Federal District, the PRD controls the governorships of mostly impoverished states: Baja California Sur, Chiapas, Guerrero, Michoacan and Zacatecas. The PRD lost Tlaxcala back to the PRI last year.

Morelos, a tiny but densely populated state of 1.6 million people, is a microcosm of the new Mexico: an expanding middle class, many of whom commute to Mexico City or have weekend homes in this pleasant colonial-era state capital, surrounded by pockets of persistent poverty, especially in the rural areas. Like Mexico as a whole, it is seeing the PAN and PRD emerge as the two major parties, with the PRI becoming a minor player.

In Morelos, even if Mr. Adame is declared the winner, the PAN won only seven of the directly elected seats in the legislature, while the PRD won the other 11 and the PRI was shut out; 12 more will be assigned by proportional representation.

In the voting for the 33 municipal governments, the PRD won 21, the PAN seven, the PRI only four and the Greens one.

“It’s an interesting phenomenon,” observed Geraldo Sotelo, an electrical engineer in Cuernavaca, of the PRD’s sudden surge. “The people here rejected the PRI [in 2000] after so many years [in power] and elected the PAN, which did the same kinds of things. It’s logical they would experiment with something different.”

Morelos, along with Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Sonora and Campeche, may become a battleground state, which would not be without precedent. This is the home state of the legendary revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, who led an uprising against the large landowners and participated in the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution. He was betrayed and assassinated in 1919, but his legacy is still evident here.

“Without a doubt, Morelos is heavily identified with Zapata, like Pancho Villa is with Chihuahua,” said Mario Caballero, one of the five counselors of the IEE. However, he said that the public image of Zapata as a fire-breathing revolutionary akin to Che Guevara is apocryphal and that Zapata would not have been that upset over Morelos electing a PAN governor.

“He worked for rich people,” Mr. Caballero said. “He really wasn’t a violent man. He had a political plan. What he wanted was development.”

However, Mr. Caballero added, “If Zapata were alive today, he wouldn’t belong to any of these parties, because of the corruption. He’d probably start a new movement.”

A young man, who cast his ballots in the Plaza of the Revolution of the South in Zapata’s home city of Cuautla and sported a T-shirt with a New York Yankees logo, disagreed.

“He’d probably take up arms again,” he said. “All our governments are lousy.”

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