Zedillo Faces Many Tests in Ending Political Corruption His First Appointments Show Encouraging Signs of Reform

Article excerpt

BECAUSE every incoming Mexican president remains under the shadow of the outgoing president until inauguration day, the first real sign of what to expect from the new administration comes with announcement of the new Cabinet. Subject to constraints imposed by the need to accommodate factions within the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon has made appointments that signal a commitment to political reform that was all but absent under his predecessor. That commitment - symbolized most powerfully in the appointment of an opposition leader as attorney general - will face a series of early tests, as Mr. Zedillo confronts unresolved problems inherited from the previous administration.

The first test will come in the rebellious state of Chiapas. Tensions there have been mounting since the gubernatorial election in August. By official count, PRI candidate Eduardo Robledo won the governorship with just over 50 percent of the vote, to 35 percent for Amado Avendano of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution. Yet observers from Civic Alliance, a coalition of election observation groups, documented a pattern of widespread vote fraud, the worst of any of the 31 states.

Ballot secrecy was violated in two-thirds of the polls observed; attempts were made to influence voters in 45 percent of locations; and in 9 percent, voters were seen casting multiple ballots rolled inside each other like tacos. Because of the irregularities, Mr. Avendano has refused to concede the election, and his supporters, who include tens of thousands of protesters and the Zapatista insurgents, vow to occupy town halls, block highways, and withhold tax payments until Mr. Robledo, who was inaugurated two weeks ago, steps down.

In an effort to mediate, Chiapas's three Catholic bishops recently proposed a recount. By rejecting the idea, the PRI-dominated state congress has only reinforced suspicions of fraud. To dispel the doubts and begin healing the state's deep divisions, it is essential that a new, unexceptionably clean election be convened. With Esteban Moctezuma in charge of the Ministry of Government, which handles federal-state relations, Zedillo has a competent and loyal administrator adequate to the task. All that is needed is a presidential nod signaling a determination to rid the country of electoral fraud at all levels of government.

A related problem is that of human rights abuses by the Army. Last January, while forcing the Zapatistas back into their rain-forest bases, the Army tortured prisoners, executed captives, and bombed civilians. Atrocities have hurt the Army's relations with inhabitants, but the government has not sought to discipline those responsible. …