President Ernesto Zedillo on Monday used his most important speech of the year to promise cooperation with his country’s first opposition-led Congress in more than 80 years.
Zedillo pledged his “invariable readiness to establish a relationship of respect” and shared responsibility with the new Congress, which formally began its three-year term Monday.
With the congressional election of July 6, “the country took a very important step to arrive at democratic normality,” Zedillo said.
Before Zedillo took to the podium for his state of the nation speech, opposition deputies celebrated their newfound control, vowing to maintain a fragile unity that has put Mexico’s ruling party into a legislative minority for the first time since it was founded in 1929. The last opposition-led Congress was in 1913.
“The time of legislative submission to the executive power has ended,” Alejandro Gonzalez Yanez of the leftist Labor Party said.
“This day will be remembered as the beginning of a new Mexico,” said Jorge Emilio Gonzalez of the Green Party. It will end, he said, “a corrupt system which has brought our country poverty and marginalization.”
Zedillo arrived after the party statements. But for the first time, the official legislative response to his speech was to be delivered in his presence by an opposition party member.
It was far from the atmosphere of past state of the nation speeches, when criticism of his comments came from scattered hecklers, by bedsheet banners demanding democracy and even by a congressman wearing a rubber pig mask.
This time, protests came from his own Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. It took a presidential appeal to PRI lawmakers to drop threats of boycotting the session.
For a time, they even talked of forming their own rump congress, a move that could have set off a constitutional crisis.
Opposition deputies gathered Saturday in the congressional chambers, declared a quorum and named Porfirio Munoz Ledo, a fiery orator of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, as the speaker of the lower house. The speaker traditionally gives the official response to the president’s address.
In past years, opposition deputies sometimes shouted challenges to the president from the floor, but they were generally drowned out by calls from the PRI majority.
With the PRI unaccustomed to being challenged, its mutiny against opposition control of Congress was short-lived but spectacular.
Over the weekend, Zedillo - who has praised the democratic reforms that led to the opposition gains - called for cooperation, and had aides contact congressional leaders to end the budding revolt.