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Mexicans to Vote Sunday in Midterm Elections - 2003-07-03

In Mexico, political parties are winding up their campaigns ahead of Sunday's mid-term election. Voters will select candidates for all 500 seats of the lower chamber of Congress. The outcome could determine the fate of Mexican President Vicente Fox's last three years in office.

Many political analysts are deriding Sunday's election as a waste of time and money, and polls indicate that an unprecedented 50 percent of Mexico's 64 million eligible voters plan to abstain.

President Fox has no direct role in this contest, but if his National Action Party, known as the PAN, fails to make substantial gains, his program may remain largely blocked by opposition parties in the Congress, and the remaining three years of his presidency may be characterized by stagnation. Recent polls provide little hope for the PAN advancing beyond a few seats, and some polls show the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, taking more.

For Mr. Fox and his supporters it is a frustrating situation. Three years after winning the election that brought an end to 71 years of one-party rule by the PRI, Vicente Fox remains popular, but he is perceived by many Mexicans as having been ineffective in office.

His defenders blame this on the fact that the PAN holds only 202 seats in the lower house of the legislature. The PRI holds 207 seats, and smaller parties divide up the rest, with no single party or coalition having sufficient votes to pass any measure. To make matters worse, much of the bureaucracy at both the federal and state level throughout Mexico remains tied to the PRI, and resists reforms the Fox government tries to implement.

Still, President Fox says his government has made a difference. He adds that his is a government with clean hands and that one of the benchmarks of progress is the comparison with the way things were done before his election and the way things are done now. He highlights the transparency of his government and the ongoing campaign against corruption.

Independent observers also credit Mr. Fox for having opened up government to more public scrutiny, even putting information from federal agencies on the Internet. They also acknowledge the government's success in fighting corruption and drug trafficking.

Economists find positive accomplishments in the government's promotion of trade, the effort to maintain a strong currency while holding down inflation and attracting foreign investment.

But business leaders express disappointment in the Fox presidency because the president has not worked effectively with the Congress to pass major reforms in such areas as energy, labor and the tax system. Without these reforms, they say, the country cannot grow sufficiently to keep up with the demand for jobs.

If Sunday's election results do not favor President Fox and the PAN, opposition parties could make it even more difficult to pass the reforms. Some analysts and business leaders believe this would further weaken the economy and set the stage for a rejection of the PAN's conservative, pro-market agenda in the July 2006 presidential election.