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Who's the arbiter? Fifth year of Fox's term melds into presidential succession.

During the 71-year rule of the PRI, the fifth year of the sexenio was "The Year of the President." The sitting president focused on signature projects and public works with enough time to complete them and show them off as the historical legacy of his term.

This was also the year that the incumbent concentrated much of his political capital on the responsibility of being the undisputed arbiter of the political wars as the various PRI factions jockeyed for position in the presidential sweepstakes.

Today, as President Fox's fifth year is under way, it's obvious the political landscape has changed. The PRI no longer sits in Los Pinos--Fox's dismissal of the former ruling party from the presidential mansion will perhaps be his legacy. And one of the consequences of this is that there is no trace of this omnipotent presidencialismo that centralized political power.

Today, as never before, it is clear the president is no longer the arbiter of the presidential succession. One of the biggest questions regarding electoral politics is: Will President Fox stay on the sidelines on the road to 2006?

This year should give us some indication. The perception among analysts is that there is evidence of machinations at Los Pinos aimed at blocking Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's presidential aspirations. It is possible Fox is not actively participating in these efforts, but there is also little evidence he intends to stay out of the early skirmishes among presidential hopefuls.

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One arbiter that has been gaining relevance in the past few years is the Supreme Court.

Nowadays, and partly as a result of the gradual decline of presidencialismo and the change in the rules of Mexico's political game, conflicts and controversies have multiplied. This has left little recourse but to turn to the Supreme Court and adhere to its decisions. But now there is a growing perception that the Court has been contaminated by the dynamics of the current political wars.

A good example of the failure of politics is the budget dispute. The president and Congress have turned to the Court to resolve the standoff. Fox has accused Congress of violating the Constitution, while Congress responded by asking the Court to rule that it has no jurisdiction in the matter.

The debate has become highly politicized and has polarized the landscape. The outcome could damage the prestige and credibility of the Court. Its decision will likely be accepted and obeyed, but it won't be enough to recover the loss of credibility. One solution is for the Court to recognize it must become more transparent in revealing its decision-making procedures to convince the public of its impartiality.

Another arbiter that could step into the breach is one that has been greatly ignored ever since the ruling party was ousted in 2000. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) will again shoulder a heavy burden--ensuring that campaign and electoral law is observed and enforced fairly--while also rising above the controversial selection of the new IFE council in late 2003.

The fifth year of the Fox administration is the year without a presidential arbiter. Let's hope the Court and IFE make it a year of legitimate and credible arbiters. Let's hope these institutions and all political actors--including the media, which plays a significant role in the nation's political transition--demonstrate maturity, so as not to transform the arbiters into arbitrary referees.

If the latter happens, it is only a small step back to authoritarianism.

Joel Estudillo Rendon is a member of the board of the Mexican Institute for Political Studies.
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Title Annotation:POLITICAL SOAPBOX
Author:Rendon, Joel Estudillo
Publication:Business Mexico
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2005
Words:592
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