MEXICO CITY, July 3 -- Mexico's newly elected President Vicente Fox called his historic electoral success "a victory for democracy" Monday, and urged his supporters to be tolerant and not seek revenge on their political opponents. Addressing a huge crowd at the Monument to Independence in the Mexican capital, the conservative leader vowed to work with honest members of all parties, but said corruption would not be tolerated.
The new president, who turned 58 Sunday, ended a seven-decade lock on the Mexican presidency by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and changed the country's political landscape. Full results are not expected to be known before Monday night at the earliest, but reliable projections gave Fox of the National Action Party (PAN) -- hitherto the perennial also-rans in Mexican politics -- a winning margin of between four and six percent.
Outgoing President Ernesto Zedillo telephoned Fox to congratulate him. He said the fact that the election had taken place without incident and free of irregularities showed that Mexico had "matured as a democracy."
Observers said the elections, held under the watchful eye of international observers, were probably the cleanest in the nation's history. Former Texas governor Ann Richardson, one of the observers, called the vote "a watershed moment". Interviewed by CNN she said of the election, "It was open, it was free, and it was secure. There was a dramaticchange today -- a change in the process, a change in Mexico."
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also an observer, said, "The major credit should go to the Mexican people ... (who) had a choice between three superb candidates."
The voters were saying it was a time for a change, Carter said. "(Fox) is very wise in political circles. He will be a friend of the United States."
Conceding defeat Sunday night presidential candidate Francisco Labastida said: "The citizens have made a decision that we should respect, and I'll set the example myself."
Fox's victory introduces a process that has long been the opposition's battle cry -- "alternation of power." However, the new president has said he planned to form a pluralistic administration, with members drawn from all parties, including the PRI. In this Fox could be making a virtue of necessity. He will not have an absolute majority in the congress and senate, and will be forced to form political alliances in order to govern.
Besides electing a new president, Mexican voters were also choosing 128 senators, 500 federal deputies, and the head of Mexico City's administration.
Observers say Fox faces daunting problems, but can count on the support of Mexico's business community. A former head of Coca Cola in Mexico he is expected to continue Zadillo's market-oriented economic policies and to try to consolidate his country's fragile economic gains. He will also be expected to further strengthen economic and political ties with the United States.
Tall, rugged with a booming voice, Fox propelled himself into the Mexican presidential race three years ago through sheer force of his personality. He resigned as governor of the small but populous state of Guanajuato to devote himself to his campaign. His brash style quickly made him a media figure, but also alienated some potential political allies, and observers were wondering how his blunt style will play as president.
In Washington, meanwhile, a State Department official said the administration does not expect any changes, in U.S.-Mexican relations. Relations have been getting better and better and are "excellent," he said Monday.
"We expect that we will be working closely and cooperatively with the Fox administration on the big issues of trade, immigration and narcotics," the official added. (Reported by Hil Anderson in Los Angeles and Roland Flamini and Lou Marano in Washington.)