Split Congress Shifts Left in Mexican Voting; Conservatives Short of Majority

Article excerpt

Byline: Robert Buckman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

CUERNAVACA, Mexico - Whoever emerges winner of Mexico's cliffhanger presidential election will have to continue governing by consensus and deal with a divided Congress that has shifted slightly to the left but remains dominated by the conservative National Action Party (PAN).

Preliminary results from Sunday's elections for the 500-member Chamber of Deputies and half of the 128-member Senate show that the PAN has lost seats in both houses but remains the largest bloc in both chambers, although still far short of a majority.

The left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) showed significant gains in both houses, while the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was reduced to a shadow of its former dominant position. The PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years before the PAN's Vicente Fox won the presidency in 2000.

Under a complex proportional-representation formula, 200 members of the lower house are assigned and 300 members are elected directly. The Senate also has a mix of directly elected senators and those assigned according to which party carries each of the 31 states and the Federal District of Mexico City.

The Mexico City daily El Universal predicted that the PAN's strength would decrease from 148 seats to 141 in the lower house and from 48 to 43 seats in the Senate. The PRD and two allied parties, meanwhile, are expected to increase from 97 to 110 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and from 15 to 26 in the Senate.

The PRI, allied with the small Green Party, is expected to drop from 203 seats in the lower house to 49 and from 58 seats to 27 in the Senate.

The presidential election, meanwhile, remained too close to call. Felipe Calderon of the PAN and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD, with about 36 percent of the vote each, claimed victory. Roberto Madrazo of the PRI was at 21.1 percent.

In other voting Sunday, the PRD easily retained control of the capital Federal District with Marcelo Ebrard elected mayor, considered the second most powerful post in the country. He received 47 percent to 27 percent for the PAN's Demetrio Sodi and 21 percent for Beatriz Paredes of the PRI-Green coalition.

The PAN easily retained the governorship of Mr. Fox's home state of Guanajuato, where Juan Manuel Oliva was leading with 59 percent of the votes. In Jalisco state, also held by the PAN, Emilio Gonzalez of the PAN had a lead of 45.2 percent to 41.1 percent for the PRI's Arturo Zamora.

Here in Morelos state, where the PAN elected its first governor in 2000, the outcome remained in doubt yesterday. With 82 percent of the vote counted, the PAN's Marco Adame had 36 percent, the PRD's Francisco Martinez had 32 percent, and Maricela Sanchez of the PRI-Green alliance had 24.1 percent.

The incumbent PAN governor, Sergio Estrada, was elected with 57 percent of the vote in 2000, but two years ago, he was indicted on charges of colluding with the Juarez drug cartel.

"We were all surprised," said Adolfo Aragoneses, 21, a computer engineering student at the University of Morelos who is the PRI-Green representative to the State Electoral Institute (IEE), which oversees elections. "Many people here in Morelos thought the PAN would lose this election. We thought Maricela would win, but she ran third."

He attributed the decline in the PAN's popularity here to Mr. Estrada's drug scandal, to his failure to implement adequate water supply and to a prolonged garbage worker strike. He also attributed the PRD's strong showing to the coattails of Mr. Lopez Obrador, who carried Morelos handily.

Whichever presidential candidate wins, he will have a shaky mandate of less than 40 percent of the vote. Like Mr. Fox, who received 42 percent, the winner will have to seek to govern by consensus with a fragmented Congress, which hamstrung many of Mr. Fox's major programs.

Continued gridlock in Mexico City also may lead to a shift of power to state governors, which, during the days of PRI domination, essentially were appointed by the president. …