Opposition politicians promise to work with Mexican president in last year of office
September 1, 2005
MEXICO CITY – Opposition politicians made a last-ditch promise to work with President Vicente Fox, despite giving him a failing grade in the first five years of his term. Fox urged them to not give up on the nation’s still-young, still-imperfect democracy.In his last state-of-the-nation address prior to next year’s elections to replace him, Fox insisted that while many of his policy goals had fallen short, democracy had triumphed.”Democracy has been worth it,” he said, in a speech that employed the word “democracy” no less than 32 times.When Mexicans vote July 2, he said, they “will reaffirm the validity of popular sovereignty as the basis of our democratic regime.”As Mexico’s first leader to end seven decades of autocratic presidencies, however, Fox reminded his skeptical audience that while his reduced powers were a boon to democracy, they were sometimes also an obstacle to making his policies reality.”Citizens demanded an end to the oppressive weight and excessive influence of the executive branch over the other powers and orders of government. And this is precisely what we have accomplished,” he said.In return, he said, Mexicans could no longer expect policies to be pushed through rapidly without debate and dissent, especially in an opposition-dominated Congress.Opposition legislators who already have their eye on winning back the presidency from Fox’s center-right National Action Party, or PAN, next year weren’t buying it, however.As in past years, legislators blamed Fox for acting in a confrontational and condescending manner that prevented agreements from being forged between the executive and legislative branches.They also faulted him for failing to provide real solutions to the country’s biggest problems, including grinding poverty and skyrocketing crime.”We have respect and we will continue to have respect for the executive branch, but his performance in office does not deserve our recognition,” said Congressman Enrique Burgos, of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.Fox, on the other hand, has insisted that he did what he could to promote crucial reforms in the energy, labor, judicial and tax sectors, but that Congress stood in the way.”In a democracy with a government, yet without a legislative majority, it is the responsibility of the executive branch to ensure that agreements are reached to promote public action,” he said.”At the same time, it is the duty of the legislative branch to provide the republic with laws that encourage its development and respond to citizens’ interests.”The president also implied that Congress should share the blame for Mexico’s failure to advance to the degree that everyone had hoped in 2000, when Fox became the first opposition candidate in 71 years to defeat the PRI.Under most PRI regimes, presidents with virtually no accountability to the voters dictated laws that were rubber-stamped by Congress.In Mexico’s new democracy, however, Fox said, dialogue has been needed but seldom achieved between his administration and Congress.”We have built too many walls and few bridges,” he said to loud heckling from legislators who blame what they say are Fox’s lack of direction and leadership skills.Fox implored Congress “to turn democratic debate and the plurality of ideas into our greatest source of innovation and our main strength.””Agreement is the transforming force of history,” he said.Lawmakers listened more and interrupted the president less than during last year’s protest-ridden address. But they were unrelenting in their portrayal of Fox as a failure.”In general, the balance of this administration could be qualified as negative,” said Congresswoman Gloria Lavara of the Green Party.”The nation had hoped for a path open to great changes,” added Pablo Gomez, leader of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, in the lower House. “The old political system was left behind, but they haven’t started to build anything to replace it.”Yet despite Fox’s limited remaining time as president – a new leader will occupy the executive office in December 2006 – opposition leaders said they were still willing to work with the president and the PAN on issues such as security and economic growth.”We don’t want to serve as scapegoats for a failure,” said PRI Congressman Heliodoro Diaz.