— After 71 years, Mexico’s ruling party has lost its grip on power.
President Ernesto Zedillo declared opposition candidate Vicente Fox winner of the nation’s presidential elections, something that would have been unthinkable not too long ago.
Fox, of the National Action Party — known by its Spanish initials, PAN — defeated Francisco Labastida of Zedillo’s Institutional Revolution Party, or PRI, which has ruled Mexico for much of the past century.
Preliminary results “are sufficient and trustworthy enough to say that the next president of the republic will be Vicente Fox,” Zedillo said in a nationally televised statement. “I have telephoned him to express my sincere congratulations.”
Moments later, ruling-party candidate Labastida said, “The citizens have made a decision that we should respect, and I’ll set the example myself.”
End of an Era
Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive and rancher, called Sunday a historic day for Mexico.
“From today forward, we need to unite. We have to work together to make Mexico the great country we have all dreamed of,” he said.
The vote was the first in more than a century in which the outcome wasn’t clear beforehand. Despite hundreds of allegations of pressure and vote-buying — most perpetrated by the ruling party — the elections were widely seen as Mexico’s fairest ever.
People began gathering beneath the gilded angel of Mexico City’s Independence Monument, waving the blue-and-white flag of Fox’s PAN while plastic trumpets blared amid chants of “Yes you could!”
Fox wasted no time taking his message of reform to a U.S. audience. A day after his victory, Fox told ABCNEWS’ Nightline that he hoped to improve Mexico’s relationship with the United States by solving problems tied to migration, drug trafficking and trading.
“We’re going to give the mother of all battles against organized crime in Mexico,” Fox said on Nightline. “We will begin by eradicating corruption from within government becauise all of our police corps are totally contaminated.”
Fox won between 39 and 45 percent of the vote, according to quick counts by the independent Federal Electoral Institute, while Labastida had between 35 and 38.9 percent of the vote. It could take up to three days before the final numbers are in.
Many voters rose early to stand in long lines before many polling stations were even open to decide between Labastida, a straight-laced career politician from the ruling party, or Fox, a tough-talking rancher from the center-right opposition.
Labastida’s party has held the presidency of Latin America’s second biggest economy and the United States’s second biggest trading partner since 1929, when the PRI was founded.
Fox’s supporters are mostly young, urban and from the growing dot-com generation.
“I think it’s the most important election in probably Mexican modern history, and I think the Mexican people know and are not going to let the opportunity fade away,” said Enrique Krause, a Mexican historian.
In Mexico City, which holds the biggest concentration of voters, a steady stream of voters filled polling stations throughout the day Sunday. Many people rose early and stood in long lines before many of the 113,000 voting stations across the country had even opened.