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Mexico's New Politics

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President Ernesto Zedillo shared a podium with opposition leader Porfirio Muoz Ledo last week, and Mexican politics may never be the same. Both the president's State of the Nation speech, and Mr. Muoz Ledo's response, were generally perceived as thoughtful, tempered statements that indicate partnership is possible.

Partnership across party lines has had no place in Mexico for most of the last seven decades. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) reigned supreme. In recent years things have been changing, with the conservative National Action Party (PAN), in particular, making inroads at the state level. The change went national on July 6, when the PRI lost its majority in the lower house of Congress.

Despite the appearance of harmony between Mr. Zedillo, who represents a reformist wing of the PRI, and Mr. Muoz Ledo, formerly a prominent PRI leader and now an outspoken adherent of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the political road ahead promises to be rocky. Can the opposition majority, which comprises disparate political views, hold together well enough to accomplish much? Can the president and Congress reconcile differing economic priorities? Will the PRI members of Congress, still by far the largest single delegation, turn obstructionist?

On the first question, the immediate outlook is cautiously hopeful. All opposition parties have an interest in pushing through procedural reforms that will allow Congress to move away from the era of one-party dominance. So far, they have devised a system of rotating chairmanships to regulate the flow of legislation. And they're likely to join forces to further dismantle what has been a nearly all-powerful presidency. The funds long set aside for discretionary use by the president, for example, could be a target.

But when it comes to substantive policy matters - taxes and social spending, for instance - parties like the PAN and PRD will almost surely diverge.

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