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Mexican Political Parties Look to State Election for Boost

Mexican President Vicente Fox and his party, The National Action Party, or PAN, are looking to a state election this weekend for a boost that could help in national congressional elections in July. But the former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, is also looking to the vote as a way of regaining its strength.

The contest takes place Sunday in the Estado de Mexico, the state of Mexico, which surrounds all but a small part of Mexico City. Although these elections are local and no national posts are at stake, party leaders and political analysts view them as a test that could serve as a preview to nationwide congressional elections to be held July 6.

Sunday's voting will also be an important test for President Fox and the PAN. President Fox remains popular in the state, according to polls, but his party lags behind. This has been cited as a possible problem for the PAN, not only in the state of Mexico but throughout the country.

PAN President Luis Felipe Bravo Mena says the party is aware of the challenge. He acknowledges that there is a gap in the polls between President Fox and the PAN, but he says party leaders are working to convince people who favor Mr. Fox that they should also support his party.

Many of the major reforms proposed by President Fox in the past two and a half years remain stalled because the PAN does not have a majority in the Mexican Congress. The PRI, which ended 71 years of uninterrupted power when Mr. Fox won the year 2000 presidential election, has joined with the smaller leftist party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, to oppose many Fox proposals.

If the PAN could win more seats in the congress in the July elections, it might be able to push through at least some of the major programs, like energy reform. But some analysts say that without such a gain President Fox's proposals could remain stalled for the remaining three years of his term.

Mr. Bravo Mena, for his part, says the PAN will continue to seek dialogue and possible accords with the other parties, but he also makes clear his desire to see substantial gains in the upcoming elections. For that reason, the elections in cities and municipalities in the state of Mexico on Sunday have taken on such importance.

The state's governor, Arturo Montiel, of the PRI, has maintained his popularity by talking tough on crime. The PRI recently formed an alliance in the state with the Green Party to promote, among other things, the death penalty for some crimes. Mexico currently does not use the death penalty for any crime, including murder. The pro-death penalty stance of the Green Party raised eyebrows, however, since the party has long been known for its opposition to bull fighting and other activities that hurt animals.

The state of Mexico is the country's most populous state, with 13 million inhabitants. It also has the greatest number of votersmore than eight million and, in terms of economic activity, is second only to the Federal District, which comprises Mexico City. The last polls taken in the state indicate close races in most communities.