International Papers

México Libre! 

The Financial Times compared Vicente Fox’s victory in Mexico’s presidential election and the defeat of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 71 years in power to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It said:

PRI, born in the era of silent movies, was ousted in the era of the internet. As the privileged received more education, so they turned away from the party that had long twisted history books to play up its triumphs.

In another historical analogy, Spain’s El Mundo described PRI as a dinosaur surviving from a political era that had disappeared in other parts of the world, and it called on other parties—such as Fox’s PAN or the leftist PRD—which are better adapted to modern parliamentary democracy, to take its place.

The Montreal Gazette was quick to take credit for “the end of a political era and the beginning of a new chapter in [Mexico’s] remarkable transformation into a fully functioning, modern democracy.” It claimed:

For Canada and the United States, Mexico’s partners in NAFTA, the results were an encouraging vindication of the view that liberalized trade and investment in Mexico eventually would lead to political reform.

Most other papers paid tribute to President Ernesto Zedillo, whose bold $1.5 billion program of electoral reform may well have helped bring down his party. A story in Canada’s National Post outlined the extensive anti-fraud precautions: 350,000 “scrutineers,” chosen at random from Mexicans with April birthdays, matched election cards that included a fingerprint, signature, hologram, photograph, and encrypted voting information with a voters’ list, which showed a photo of each voter. The author continued:

Undoubtedly, there has been vote buying and intimidation. But the real problem with democracy here is no longer procedures but poverty. Excessive birth rates have resulted in a growing underclass. Who wouldn’t sell their vote to feed their children?

An editorial in the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong was particularly optimistic about the voters’ behavior:

[T]heir choice offers a useful lesson for other developing countries with social problems. Mexicans did not choose a rabble-rousing populist who promised the moon; instead, they elected a wealthy rancher and former Coca-Cola executive who promised a more honest government, starting with reforms of a corrupt judicial system and police force. … This suggests that people will make careful judgments when given real options, and should be trusted more than feared.

The arrival of political diversity was universally lauded. An editorial comment in the FT said, “It does not mean the end of the road for one-party states so long as communist rule survives in mainland China. But it marks a big step along the way.” Britain’s Independent managed to include a dig at Mexico’s neighbor to the north in its ovation for the election results:

“So far from God, so close to the United States,” it has been said of Mexico. Nothing can change geography. But if true godliness really does lie in multi-party democracy, the country has just taken a giant step towards the Almighty.

Among all the applause, several papers wondered at the task facing Vicente Fox. The Independent reminded: 

Fox has a job on his hands. The PRI has not been wiped from the map, and may have done enough to deny Mr Fox a working majority in parliament. The Mexico he inherits is a volatile, vastly complicated country with huge disparities of wealth.

The Khaleej Times of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, echoed this note of caution. Its editorial concluded by noting that President-elect Fox “has already declared that the six-year one-term presidency is too short to solve all the problems—of poverty, crime and access to education.”

The paper’s other Tuesday editorial, on the “thumping victory” of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party in that country’s parliamentary elections, also held Sunday, seemed a particularly apt juxtaposition. According to the Khaleej Times, the “impatient electorate” threw the MPRP out of office in 1996, after 70 years in power, but the program to replace the MPRP’s Soviet-style cradle-to-grave welfare system with a free-market economy “involved too much pain for too little gain.” In Sunday’s election, the MPRP took 72 out of 76 seats. In a snarky “Passnotes” on Mongolia, the Guardian of London made much of MPRP Chairman Nambaryn Enkhbayar’s fondness for British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Enkhbayar, who went to university in England, told the Guardian:

We were very much inspired by this “New Labour” image of Tony Blair. … We have tried to keep our leftist tradition, but we have moved towards the centre. We now call ourselves a centre-left party.

Blair may not be the best role model for the new Mongolian leader. Days after the prime minister proposed on-the-spot fines for drunken and loutish behavior, the papers had a field day when his eldest son, Euan, was arrested in central London Wednesday night for being “drunk and incapable.” A report in the London Evening Standard said the incident “presented his parents with a family nightmare—and massive personal and political embarrassment.” An op-ed in the Guardian was more forgiving, concluding:

[Blair’s spokesman] said the boy’s parents wanted him to have “as normal an upbringing as possible.” On Wednesday night’s evidence they seem to be doing pretty normally.  

International Papers travel tips: Avoid cat-meat pies when riding Russian trains. The St. Petersburg Times ran a horrifying story Tuesday, under the headline “Diarrhea Victims Get Ticket To Ride,” the lead of which deserves to be run without comment:

Between checking tickets, handing out sheets and taking orders for tea, train conductors must find time for a particularly thankless task: keeping a vigilant eye on the toilet and its frequent visitors. “Diarrhea sufferers will be forced to get off trains,” the Moscow Railways said in a press release distributed last week.Further down, the announcement explained that by diarrhea sufferers, or ponosniki, it was referring only to carriers of infectious gastrointestinal diseases such as dysentery, cholera and typhoid, and that passengers suspected of carrying these diseases would be inspected by doctors and sent to medical institutions.

A spokeswoman for Moscow Railways explained:

When passengers travel in the summer they take fruit, vegetables and chicken in plastic bags with them or buy pies with cat meat at train stops, and then there is a chance they will either get food poisoning or an infectious disease.

Although one enthusiastic conductor discussed the special medical equipment the trains carry—”buckets for vomit and isolation sheets soaked in chlorine that are hung around the seats,” another dismissed the notion of a rest-room watch. Zakira Kurtdinova told the paper, “Some passengers go to the lavatories very often. They drink beer and then go to the toilet all the time.”