MEXICO CITY -- Perhaps now no one will doubt the United States' southern neighbor is truly democratic.
Vicente Fox's win in Sunday's Mexican presidential election marks the last gasp of a single-party system born when Herbert Hoover was the U.S. president and still running strong long after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
Mexico has gradually become more democratic over the last quarter-century. Opposition parties have won governorships, the Mexico City mayor's seat and ended the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party's majority in Congress.
But in a country where presidents long exercised almost unquestioned authority, it was difficult for many to think of Mexico as a true democracy while the governing party, known as the PRI, held on to the presidential seat.
And many thought it always would. No Mexican alive today has seen a governing party lose the presidency to an opposition candidate.
Then Fox came along. A brash governor of the small state of Guanajuato, Fox began his campaign an unheard-of three years before the presidential election, crisscrossing the country.
To Mexico's poor and humble, he presented himself as a tough-talking rancher who never left home without his cowboy boots on. To Mexico's elite, he was the world-savvy former Coca-Cola executive who would continue President Ernesto Zedillo's market-oriented economic policies.
He talked about improving education, stamping out corruption and making sure that the poor saw the benefits of Mexico's growing economy. But his real message was about change -- that it was time to get rid of the PRI and that he was the only candidate who could do it.
Fox won the election by a stunningly ample margin. Three hours after the vote, Zedillo acknowledged Fox's victory.
Yet as difficult as it was for Fox to win the presidency, governing Mexico may be even harder. His center-right National Action Party made big gains in Congress, but still won't have a majority.
Fox has said he wants members of all parties in his Cabinet. But his sharp tongue and freewheeling personality have alienated many -- including members of his own party. It's questionable how many members of other parties will want to be part of a Fox government.
And Fox has to count on a civil service of government officials who owe their jobs -- and their loyalty -- to the PRI.
Mexico has certainly not seen the last of the PRI. It remains the only party with nationwide support and may be ideologically closer to Democratic Revolution on many issues than to National Action. That could make it difficult for Fox to get his initiatives through Congress.
The PRI will continue to be a force in state and local elections: a powerful -- but not all-powerful -- party in Mexico's maturing multiparty democracy.
Ken Guggenheim covers Latin American issues for The Associated Press.
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