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Mexican voters deliver rebuke to president

Published Sep. 1, 2005

President Vicente Fox, who rode to a landslide victory three years ago, was a chastened man Monday after voters widely rejected his party Sunday in a nationwide election to choose a new lower house of Congress.

"Now begins the era of consensus, of accords," Fox vowed contritely in a TV interview Monday, promising that his administration would "redouble its efforts" to forge compromises with his newly strengthened opponents in the Chamber of Deputies.

His humility may come too late, however. During the three years that he held a stronger hand, he was unable to persuade his foes to help him deliver on his promises of millions of new jobs, a migration accord with the United States and reforms in labor, energy and the economy.

Now, Fox's conservative National Action Party has lost at least 44 seats in the 500-member legislature, according to incomplete results from the Federal Electoral Institute. That could mean a drop for the PAN, as it is known in its Spanish initials, from 202 seats to 158. The final count won't be ready until Sunday.

Only 26-million of Mexico's 65-million voters went to the polls, the lowest turnout in the country's history. The clearest conclusion to be drawn is that many Mexicans aren't buying Fox's and the PAN's performance or aren't keen to return to the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which Fox ousted from the presidency after 71 years of rule.

The big winner was the center-leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), which nearly doubled its representation in the Chamber of Deputies, from 56 seats to about 99.

Although the well-organized PRI failed to win an absolute majority, it gained at least 20 more seats than the 207 it had had in the Chamber of Deputies. That was enough for some analysts to conclude that the party was on its way back to power.

Mexico City PAN leader Jose Luis Luege Tamargo blamed the party's losses on Fox's inability to keep his promises from 2000.

"The regression is due to disenchantment because the promised changes haven't come with the speed that people require," he said.

Absent economic progress from either Fox or the PRI, the appeal of leftist populists seems to be growing in Mexico, several analysts observed, including historian Enrique Krauze.

"We could be on the road to a populist government because people think, "What has democracy served us for?' " Krauze said.