July 2, 2005

Five years on, Mexico democracy celebrations muted

By Noel Randewich

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - President Vicente Fox ledcelebrations on Saturday for the anniversary of his historicelection triumph but most Mexicans see little improvement fiveyears after he swept away one-party rule.

Less than 10,000 people, many fewer than organizers hadhoped for, turned up at a pro-democracy rally to mark Fox'svictory over the often corrupt Institutional RevolutionaryParty, or PRI, on July 2, 2000.

"Today we celebrate five years of democracy, of freedoms,five years of full respect for the law," Fox told a crowd ofsupporters at the capital's Angel monument.

High hopes of a better life under full democracy havelargely fallen flat. Fox has failed to make good on campaignpromises of strong economic growth.

But Mexico has avoided the kind of financial crisissuffered by other Latin American countries in recent years andFox has brought more transparency to public life after decadesof rampant corruption.

"There is more democracy, of course. Fox worked for manyyears to break the PRI," said pharmacy worker Rogelio Perez,27, twirling a wooden rattle at the rally.

A poll in Reforma newspaper on Saturday showed 55 percentof Mexicans believe that changes made under Fox are not veryimportant.

Even senior members of Fox's conservative National ActionParty, or PAN, admit the government has not really delivered onbread-and-butter issues.

"We should recognize that there is still much to do. Thereis injustice, poverty, crime and a lot of what has beenpromised has not been done," said Francisco Barrio, a hopefulto be the PAN's candidate at 2006 presidential elections.


Former Polish President Lech Walesa spoke at the event butattendance was a far cry from five years ago, when tens ofthousands of Mexicans rushed to the landmark Angel monumentafter Fox won the presidency.

Saturday's crowd was small compared to recent protests infavor of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist favored toreplace Fox at next year's polls. More than 100,000 peoplepoured onto the streets to back the Mexico City mayor's run forthe presidency.

Despite Fox's democratic credentials, the former rancherand Coca-Cola executive risked the wrath of Mexico's electoralauthorities by holding the rally.

The PRI has complained to the Federal Electoral Institutewatchdog that the gathering was an attempt to influencegovernorship elections in the State of Mexico on Sunday, whereFox's conservative party is struggling.

The president denied partisan motives.

"This citizens' event is not the celebration of a party ora candidate," he said.

The main opposition PRI still dominates in Congress whereit has blocked Fox's economic reform plans. Opinion polls showthe party's candidate, Enrique Pena, is also set to winSunday's election in the State of Mexico, seen as a keyindicator of next year's presidential polls.