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Fox struggles to get message out as press and elite turn on him.

MEXICO CITY -- Despite the fact that President Vicente Fox has only been in office for six months and took power amid optimistic expectations and strong approval ratings, the honeymoon appears to be over.

Opinion polls show that Fox's popularity is declining. An attempt to push an unpopular tax hike through Congress and a botched attempt to win a peace accord with the Zapatista rebels are partially to blame. But ironically, it appears that the wave of democratic expectations that brought him to power are proving to be a headache.

The media, which for decades were reluctant to criticize presidents of the monolithic PRI party that ruled Mexico for 70 years, has felt no qualms about attacking Fox on a broad range of subjects, including tax reform, the stalled peace process, management of the government, personnel choices, his religious practices and just about everything else.

The president's aides point out that his popularity still is about 65% in the latest polls, a strong figure for a man who became president with 42% of the popular vote.

They also maintain that Fox is more unpopular with the country's political elite than with the common people. Recent polls show that the public considers Fox to be an honest man with good intentions. Recent polls indicate that ordinary Mexicans blame the political system for tying the president up and preventing important changes.

Fox's recent attempt to cut spending by $360 million to compensate for lower oil revenues is an example of how the president is being treated by the media and political elite. The cut does not address the deeper problems of the Mexican economy, such as the fact that the real budget deficit is about 4% of the GDP instead of 1% as the government usually claims. The cut is only 0.2.% of total spending this year. Still, newspapers and opposition politicians, many of whom are members of the PRI, claim the cut will create an economic crisis.

Public opinion polls also show that about 80% of Mexicans reject the proposed tax reforms, which would involve applying the 15% value-added tax to food and medicines. However, polls also show that the vast majority of Mexicans do not know that the reforms are accompanied by reductions in income taxes and subsidies for the poor intended to offset the impact of the taxes on necessities.

This is a function of the fact that most press coverage and public comment by politicians focuses on the increased taxes.

Ironically, Fox also is being criticized for not having succeeded in convincing Congress to approve a new Indian rights bill exactly as the Zapatista rebels wanted it. However, the Mexican elite initially opposed the bill supported by the rebels because it would have created special rights for indigenous groups. Now that the rebels have rejected the bill approved by Congress, Fox is coming under fire for not acceding to their demands.

One of Fox's main problems is that while he is a good communicator, he does not appear to have a grasp of the fine details of many issues. Fore example, in recent public comments, he has forcefully supported his tax reform proposal, but in several instances, it has been obvious that he was not acquainted with the details of the measure. The same is true of the indigenous rights bill, which he supported in Congress, but in one recent case, clearly did not grasp the changes made by Congress.

Fox has tried to bypass the media by appearing frequently on television and radio to appeal directly to voters. He has a Saturday morning show carried by all stations in the country and speaks plainly - in sharp contrast to the convoluted speech of most Mexican politicians.

On May 16, Fox invited some 200 journalists and businessmen to the presidential residence of Los Pinos to hear a speech he billed as a state-of-the-union address. Traditionally Mexican presidents give their state-of-the-union address on Sept. 1 before Congress. However, Fox has announced he plans to offer these addresses every three months in a bid to build momentum for his agenda.
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Title Annotation:politics, Mexico
Publication:America's Insider
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:May 17, 2001
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