The Mexican people's decision to elect a tough-talking rancher as president, in what observers call the freest and fairest vote in the country's history, has put an end to 71 years of one-party rule in Mexico. This is a huge step toward a true democracy and an encouraging sign for relations between the United States and its southern neighbor.
Vicente Fox, a former chief executive for Coca-Cola's mammoth Mexican operation, endeared voters with his ever-present cowboy garb and his message, "Ya!," which means "enough" in Spanish. Mexican voters apparently agreed, handing the Institutional Revolutionary Party its first defeat in a dozen presidential elections.
Unlike his predecessors, who were educated in Ivy League schools, Fox was schooled in Mexico City at the Jesuit Ibero-American University. He then worked his way up Coca-Cola's corporate ladder, beginning as a salesman.
On the campaign trail, Fox employed some of the same sales strategies he honed while working for the soft drink giant. "Don't sit in the office. Go out in the street. The business of Coca-Cola is in the little shop," Fox said in a recent interview with Reuters. "Politics is done in the communal farms, schools, ranches, factories."
Time will tell whether Fox, regarded by many as a populist, will be able to empower Mexico's working class, but his record as governor of Guanajuato is impressive. Under Fox's leadership, unemployment in Guanajuato was lowered to Mexico's lowest level. He is not perceived to be beholden to his party.
While Fox is, in many respects, a breath of fresh air, Mexico's challenges remain the same: a lack of education, jobs and health care, as well as an abundance of narcotics trafficking and corruption. Although Mexico's economy is relatively stable, the benefits of free trade bolstered by the North American Free Trade Agreement have yet to buoy the common people.
Fox's immediate charge is to ensure a smooth transition to the National Action Party No one alive has ever observed a peaceful transfer of power between parties in Mexico. Fox has stressed continuity, noting he will be meeting with outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo.
Over the next two months, Fox will begin selecting his cabinet, which he has said will include people from a broad representation of parties and geographic regions. It also will include women.
Financial markets responded affirmatively to Fox's plans. Mexico's stock market immediately jumped 5 percent the morning after the election and the Mexican peso rose sharply against the dollar.
For countries and people who value democracy, Fox's election may indeed mark the beginning of new era of freedom for the Mexican people. If so, we hope the people embrace the confidence and enthusiasm of a new leader who punctuated his victory with this stirring message: "We cannot fail because we have awakened too many expectations, too many dreams and desires."