CUERNAVACA, Mexico, July 6 (RNS)--To understand something of the historic changeMexico underwent Sunday when voters threw out the governingInstitutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) after 71 years in power, it isinstructive to hear the stories of people like Fernando Malacara Brionesand Angeles Arizmendi Bobadilla.

The couple, both 65, are long-time activists in the Base ChristianCommunity movement in Cuernavaca and would have seemed to have beennatural supporters of the left-of-center Party of the DemocraticRevolution (PRD). Their activism has taken them to the embattledsouthern Mexican state of Chiapas and they talk strongly of the need for``standing in solidarity'' with the poor there.

``It's good to pray,'' said Arizmendi Bobadilla, ``but it is alsogood to act.''

In short, they are the type of people for whom liberation theology--the theology that developed in Latin America in the 1960s combiningbiblical reflection, social action and Marxist social and economicanalysis--remains relevant and alive.

Yet the couple cast their ballots for President-elect Vicente Fox Quesadaand other candidates of the center-right party, the National ActionParty (PAN), and so, too, apparently, did others aligned with the BCCmovement, a network of church-aligned activists that has flourished fornearly 30 years despite attempts by an increasingly conservative churchhierarchy to quash it.

To an outsider, BCC members voting for a candidate of a partyfounded by a group of conservative Catholic intellectuals may seemstartling. It's even more so since the BCC members live in Cuernavaca, acity that was once a haven for leftist U.S. expatriates during theMcCarthy era of the 1950s and is the capitol of the state of Morelos,the home of Emiliano Zapata, leader of the 1910-1917 Mexican Revolution.

But Malacara Briones, a taxi driver, said it is not true that allBCC members are politically to the left. Faith is ultimately moreimportant than politics, he said.

Besides, he added, the choice this year was self-evident: the PRDremained fractured and, with many former PRI members as party officials,viewed by many as something of an extension of the PRI. And even beforehis third, and presumably final, defeat as the PRD presidentialcandidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was being talked about as a figure of thepast.

By contrast, Malacara Briones said, the PAN had a solid record ofgoverning in Cuernavaca, as did Fox himself, a former Coca Colaexecutive who had served as governor of the state of Guanajuato.

In Cuernavaca, the PAN government had improved roads, built bridgesand brought potable water to some, Malacara Briones said, while the PRI,the party that had ruled nationally and had formerly run the localCuernavaca government, had a dismal record, fraught with corruption.

``The most important thing in this election was removing the PRI,''Malacara Briones said, and the best way to do that, he said, was tosupport the PAN.

Of course, not all BCC activists voted for the PAN. Some, maybemany, may have remained loyal to the PRD. And already, some aligned withthe BCCs have begun expressing concern that the PAN's overwhelmingvictories--which in addition to the presidency include important gainsin both houses of the federal legislature, as well as control of thegovernorship of Morelos--will need to be checked by other politicalparties to avoid the kind of abuse prevalent under the PRI.

But interviews with political analysts aligned with the PRD andsupportive of the BCCs and with grass roots BCC members themselvesoffered a clear contrast between PRD party loyalty, even ideologicalpurity, among the analysts, and enthusiastic admiration for the PANamong the grass roots BCC members.

To at least one observer, the BCC support for the PAN made sense,given the reality of local politics. ``I think people in Morelos,including those in the BCCs, were being pragmatic and realistic,'' saidEric Olson, senior associate for Mexico at the Washington Office onLatin America, a church-financed advocacy group on Latin Americanissues.

Sergio Estrada Cajigal, the PAN candidate for governor, waswell-known, had done a reasonably good job as mayor of Cuernavaca, Olsonsaid, ``and had a reputation for being honest, and producing results,especially infrastructure projects. The PRD candidate was an ex-PRIistawhom no one knew or trusted.''

``The Base Christian Community folks may share a lot of ideologicalspace with PRD intellectuals like Cardenas,'' Olson said, ``but theyknow the PRD is a very complex animal and not everyone who wrapsthemselves in the mantel of the PRD is necessarily a good governorwatching out for the best interests of the poor.''

How long the grass roots support for the PAN will hold is anybody'sguess. In addition to the poor, impressed with Fox and the PAN'sgoverning record, Fox's supporters are a disparate coalition ofconservative Catholics, the party's traditional base; a growing businessclass; some ecologists; and media-attuned young people.