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Mexico's Opposition Party Tries for a Comeback

Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, which after 71 years of unbroken rule lost the presidency to Vicente Fox in 2000, is now making an effort to come back in the run up to the next presidential election, which is less than two years away.

In the 2000 presidential election campaign Vicente Fox of PAN, the National Action Party, outworked and outmaneuvered PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). The result was an historic victory for the former Coca Cola executive.

But Mr. Fox was not able to clear another large political hurdle and pry control of Mexico's Congress from the iron grip of PRI. The party has effectively used its control of the legislature to thwart virtually all of the president's intended reform legislation.

Badly bruised and stunned by its first ever defeat at the presidential ballot box, PRI has worked hard to revive its credibility with the voters it so obviously lost. Mexico has a one-term presidency, which runs for six years, and for the past four years PRI has had an opportunity to reflect, re-focus and revive.

Under the leadership of Roberto Madrazo, a former contender for the party's presidential nomination, PRI has won eight state elections this year, putting PAN and the left of center PRD (Party of Democratic Revolution) firmly into the shade.

Jose Angel Gurria, who was foreign minister and then finance minister in the last administration and is a senior member of PRI, says Mexicans gave the party a wake up call in 2000 and taught it a hard lesson. But he says the voters' high hopes of radical change and a fresh political dawn under President Fox have crumbled.

"I sincerely think that people actually did vote like a penalty vote, to say 'I'm going to send these guys a message.' They are disappointed by what they got and they're a little scared at the possibility that the left may be running things the way they're running Mexico City. And therefore I think they see the PRI as a very real, as a very serious alternative. But nothing is going to be the way it was," said Mr. Gurria.

At the College of Mexico, political analyst Lorenzo Meyer says the setback in the 2000 presidential election merely dented rather than broke PRI's dominance of Mexican politics and he gives three reasons why:

"The failure of Fox, he promised everything and he delivered very few things," he said. "Second, the structure of PRI, and the third, the incapacity of those parties that are the natural enemies of PRI to re-create two things: a machine and the enthusiasm, the idea that the future belongs to them. They have been unable, unwilling, incapable to really introduce into the minds of Mexicans the idea that they are going to deliver something valuable, something good. That there is a project of a Mexico for the 21st century which is completely different from the past."

While the recent results in local, regional and federal elections are good news for the PRI, the acid test will be the 2006 presidential election.

Sergio Sarmiento, Senior Political Commentator and Editorial Director of Television Azteca, says the resurgence of PRI does not necessarily correspond with the current standing with the voters of potential presidential candidates.

"In fact when you ask people, which party they would vote for in 2006, the PRI is slightly ahead," he explained. "When you ask people which candidate they would vote for in 2006, the front runner is the candidate of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party, the PRD. So we do not see that much consistency in the expressed intentions of the voters when you ask those two different questions."

If PRI were to lose the next presidential election, it would have to endure 12 years out of power, almost a full political generation. The analysts agree this prospect has the effect of concentrating the minds within PRI's political hierarchy. But they note that while Mexican voters have been loyal and faithful in the past, they now possess a very different philosophy, which is geared to the merits of individual candidates, what they can offer, and more importantly, what they can deliver.