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Legislative Gridlock Predicted after Indecisive Mexican Vote - 2003-07-07

In Mexico, a mid-term election appears to have dealt a blow to the government of President Vicente Fox. Turnout was light in Sunday's election to select all 500 members of the lower house of Congress, as well as governors in six states. No single party gained enough votes to enjoy a congressional majority.

Preliminary, unofficial results indicate a slight lead in the overall percentage of votes for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years, uninterrupted until President Fox won the 2000 election.

Exit polls give the PRI around 34 percent of the overall national vote for the House of Deputies. Mr. Fox's National Action Party, known as the PAN, is a few points behind, with around 31 percent, according to exit polls conducted by Mexican news media organizations.

The results, even if they change slightly in the final, official count, represent a disappointment for President Fox and his party. The PAN had hoped to expand its numbers in Congress in order to pass major reforms that have been blocked by the PRI and other opposition parties for the past two-and-half-years.

No single party has had a majority in the legislative body and Sunday's vote has not changed that. That could produce three more years of gridlock at a time when the country desperately needs a coherent policy to increase economic growth.

But PRI national president and presidential hopeful Roberto Madrazo struck a tone of reconciliation in a post-election interview with Mexico's Televisa television network. He says his party is leaving behind the confrontation of the campaign and that the time has arrived for all the political parties to make an effort to respond to the voters' mandate. He says the PRI is inviting President Fox and the leaders of other parties to come together to work for a more prosperous country.

Although shaken by its first-time presidential defeat in the July 2000 election, the PRI has maintained a vast machine and strong bases in many parts of the country. Mr. Madrazo and other party leaders see Sunday's results as the beginning of a comeback for the party.

Mexico's third largest party, the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, seems to have gained the most in the polling, picking up more than 40 seats in the Congress and maintaining a platform for a strong presidential bid in 2006.

The PRD, as the party is known, also held on to its dominant position in the Federal District, which comprises Mexico City. The party's most likely presidential candidate is Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, whose populist style has drawn attention nationwide. A recent poll indicated that, if the presidential election were held today, he would win.

Although President Fox remains popular, with approval ratings at 64 percent, he has failed to use his standing to the benefit of his party. The PAN has also failed to capitalize on having control of the presidency, partly because of ideological and personal frictions between Mr. Fox and some PAN leaders.