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Political Battle Ends in Mexico

By Chris Kraul

A tense constitutional standoff between the Mexican government and Yucatan state ended Monday when a federally appointed election council was installed peacefully under orders from the Supreme Court, signaling a victory for the rule of law in Mexico.

The resolution of the dispute was a blow to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and Gov. Victor Cervera Pacheco, who had defied a previous federal order to recognize the panel and had vowed to protect Yucatan’s “sovereignty” from federal intervention.

The council will oversee the state’s May 27 gubernatorial election, in which the candidate of the long-entrenched PRI is facing serious opposition from candidate Patricio Patron, a federal senator who is backed by a coalition of parties, including the National Action Party, or PAN. The PRI has held the Yucatan governorship since 1929.

While insisting that the Yucatan legislature had acted within its rights in refusing to recognize the new election council, PRI President Dulce Maria Sauri said Sunday that the party will abide by the decision. The seven-member supervisory council took office peacefully Monday afternoon.

“Let there be no confusion -- the PRI respects the Supreme Court’s resolution,” Sauri said. Manuel Bartlett, a PRI hard-liner, agreed but warned that the “unfair and suspicious” court decision indicates that the PAN may try to impose what the PRI was long accused of: “a hegemony supported by all the judicial instruments.”

Most observers said the judicial resolution represents an encouraging departure from past Mexican history where the all-powerful president typically subverted the legal process by stepping in to arbitrate such conflicts.

“This sets a wonderful precedent that Mexicans are learning to use the structures and processes they’ve created,” said Roderic Ai Camp, professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif.

The standoff has been brewing since a federal election tribunal ruled that Yucatan’s PRI-controlled legislature last August had illegally reappointed the old election council. The tribunal questioned the council’s impartiality and ordered a new one be selected.

After a months-long impasse and hostile posturing by Cervera, the election tribunal appointed a new council and ordered that it take office.