"The Chosen One"

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Here's the man Vicente Fox is running against: former Interior Minister Francisco Labastida Ochoa. A sober and methodical stalwart of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (P.R.I.), Labastida, 57, was selected to run for Governor of his home state, Sinaloa, in 1986. He has also occupied top jobs in the finance, agriculture and energy ministries. Those were harrowing years for Labastida; powerful drug cartels ruled in Sinaloa, and when he tried to bust them--he fired 3,000 corrupt police officers--he was nearly killed in a car bombing. But those years won him a reputation as a solid executive, a man who demonstrated he could govern even in tumultuous circumstances.

Labastida has had an interesting route to his nomination. Since 1929, Mexican Presidents, who were always P.R.I. men, of course, anointed their successors through the dedazo, literally a pointing of the finger. Last year President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon stunned the nation by announcing that for the first time, the P.R.I. would hold a U.S.-style primary. Opposition parties derided the process as a charade, claiming that the fix was in for Labastida, since he was Interior Minister, a usual stepping-stone to the presidency. Sure enough, Labastida--who insists the primary was clean--creamed his three rivals.

As a candidate, Labastida's great asset, and liability, is that he is considered to be the P.R.I. bosses' "Chosen One." This means that Labastida has the state machinery chugging behind him, but it also means plenty of people will be voting against him just because of his P.R.I. background. The election, in that sense, is almost more of a referendum on the P.R.I. than on Labastida.