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Fox celebrates `democracy in Mexico' on eve of key state election

MEXICO CITY—As thousands of supporter shouted his name and mobbed this capital's Angel of Independence monument, President Vicente Fox on Saturday celebrated his fifth year in office as the "awakening of democracy" in Mexico.

On July 2, 2000, Fox, a rancher and former governor of Guanajuato state, defeated the Institutional Revolutionary Party known as the PRI, which had ruled Mexico for 71 years.

"Today, we celebrate our freedom under this symbol of liberty," Fox told the several hundreds of thousands gathered at the famed downtown monument. "We rejoice in the awakening of democracy in Mexico, five years of liberty and total respect for rights."

People shouted "Fox! Fox!" and "Re-election!" and threw confetti that filled heavily guarded streets blocked by police and snipers. The festivities were reminiscent of the nation's merriment when Fox, whose tall, good looks had the media calling him the Marlboro Man, set off festivities throughout the nation.

Saturday's gathering was used to promote Sunday's regional elections in the State of Mexico where Fox's main opponent—the nationalist party—is leading the polls.

The revelry was a triple-decker bash that also commemorated his 63rd birthday and his fourth wedding anniversary to Marta Sahagun, his controversial and politically ambitious former spokeswoman. Fox arrived at the monument late for the rally in a sport utility vehicle accompanied by former Polish president Lech Walesa, who accompanied Fox in a victory tour around the nation five years ago.

Fox said his democratic government has changed the country and warned Mexicans about returning to "authoritarian rule."

Although Fox maintains a high rating and is viewed as an honest man, he made too many promises about ending poverty, corruption and crime and is increasingly viewed as a lame duck who couldn't deliver.

By law Fox can't run for re-election. With a year left in office, opponents criticized the celebration as a campaign for his party one the eve of elections Sunday in the state of Mexico, where the PRI leads in polls.

The state, which rings around this capital, has 14 million people and is the nation's most populous. It's traditionally regarded as a gauge of national political inclinations.

But observers predict a low voter turnout, which could lessen the election's accuracy in determining the 2006 presidential outlook.

"Like others I know, we're not even going to vote. After all the promises parties make and never deliver, we don't trust anyone anymore. Look around, there's not even a bench for us to sit on, much less jobs," said musician Jose Trejo, 55, a member of a band in the state's large municipality of Naucalpan.

The PRI is counting on 39-year-old state congressman Enrique Pena Nieto, a lawyer and business administrator with movie-star good looks, to sway voters with a younger look for its old party, whose die-hard members are called "dinosaurs."

The state of Mexico curves around Mexico City like a horseshoe, with communities of wealthy suburbs, neglected slums and rural farmland almost side by side.

Although the three largest parties have staged hardy campaigns, the PRI has spent the most and gone back to its usual tactics of vote-buying, coercing, improving infrastructure and promising jobs. It's betting Sunday's vote is a message that the Mexican people are ready to take them back in 2006.

The PRI will likely also retake the governorship of Nayarit, a small state on the Pacific coast, on Sunday. Since Fox's historical triumph in 2000, the PRI has proven it isn't dead, winning 13 of the 26 governors races in the past five years.

Still, Fox's party, the PAN, and the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party hope for an upset.

The PAN's candidate is Ruben Mendoza Ayala, 44, a federal congressman, lawyer and political scientist. Recent polls show him inching closer to Nieto in the vote.

The Democratic Revolutionary Party is betting on Yeickdol Povelensky Gurwitz, who has three birth certificates, showing she is 47, 41 and 40. She was the first woman to head the male-dominated and powerful National Chamber of Industries. Her background is controversial too after media probes showed her real name is Citali Ibanez Camacho, a descendant of 1940-1946 President Manuel Avila Camacho.

The revelations prompted her to acknowledge she got pregnant at the age of 12 and changed names as a way of protecting her prominent family.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): MEXICO-ELECTION

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