July 5, 2005

Fox party in crisis a year before Mexico elections

By Alistair Bell

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Five years after overthrowing oneof the 20th century's most enduring political systems, MexicanPresident Vicente Fox's conservative party is in crisis overhow to keep power at elections in 2006.

The National Action Party, or PAN, will take a long, hardlook at itself after humiliating election results last weekend,party spokesman Marco Adame said on Tuesday.

The party, which ended 71 years of one-party rule in 2000,trailed badly in second place in Sunday's governorship race inthe State of Mexico, the country's most populous state.

Fox's party limped into third place with only 6 percent ofthe vote in another election in the western state of Nayarit.

It hurt even more that the victors in Sunday's electionswere the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which Foxousted in 2000 on a wave of pro-democracy feeling.

Adame said the party's leaders had ordered a full review"with an attitude of objective self-criticism after resultsthat of course we recognize are not favorable."

Opinion polls put possible PAN candidates in third placefor the 2006 presidential election. Leftist Andres Manuel LopezObrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, is thefront-runner.

While Mexico has avoided some of the turbulence of otherLatin American countries in recent years, Fox's government islargely seen as ineffective.


The end of PRI rule, which was often corrupt andauthoritarian, has made little or no change to most Mexicans'standards of living.

Fox's broken promises of millions of new jobs are damagingthe party and it risks falling too far behind to catch up atthe polls next year.

"If the loss in support of the PAN continues, Mexico's 2006presidential election may turn into a center-left PRI andleft-wing PRD race, as opposed to a three-way toss-up that somehave expected," UBS bank said in a report on Tuesday.

Less than 10,000 people turned up at a rally led by Fox onSaturday on the fifth anniversary of his election triumph.Organizers had expected many more.

Fox has failed to push economic reforms through thePRI-dominated Congress. His strongest contribution to foreignpolicy in recent months has been a dispute with U.S. civilrights groups over comments he made that were widely regardedas racist.

Many in his party are increasingly seeing Fox, once a heroof democracy, as a liability.

"It wouldn't surprise us if part of the new PAN strategyalso includes marking some distance from Fox," HSBC bank said.

PAN leader Manuel Espino met the main hopefuls for theparty's candidacy on Tuesday to discuss the presidentialcampaign.

"The idea is to reposition the political and electoralstrategy for the PAN for the federal elections in 2006," Adamesaid.

The leading candidate for the party's nomination is formerInterior Minister Santiago Creel, a close ally of Fox. Termlimits prohibit Fox from seeking re-election in 2006.