The Congress has played an increasingly important role since 1997 when opposition parties first made major gains. The president also legislates by executive decree in certain economic and financial fields, using powers delegated from the Congress. The president is elected by universal adult suffrage for a 6-year term and may not hold office a second time. There is no vice president; in the event of the removal or death of the president, a provisional president is elected by the Congress.
The bicameral National Congress is composed of a Senate (Cámara de Senadores) and a Chamber of Deputies (Cámara de Diputados). Consecutive re-election is prohibited. Senators are elected to 6-year terms, and deputies serve 3-year terms. The Senate's 128 seats are filled by a mixture of direct-election and proportional representation. In the lower Chamber of Deputies, 300 of the total 500 deputies are directly elected to represent single-member districts, and the remaining 200 are selected by a modified form of proportional representation from five electoral regions. The 200 proportional representation seats were created to help smaller parties gain access to the Chamber.
Situated in the southwestern part of mainland North America and roughly triangular in shape, Mexico stretches more than 3000 km (1,850 miles) from northwest to southeast. Its width is varied, from more than 2000 km (1,200 miles) in the north and less than 220 km (135 miles) at the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the south. Mexico borders two major bodies of water, the Pacific Ocean (with the Sea of Cortés between the mainland and the Baja California peninsula) to the west and on the east the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea that lead to the Atlantic Ocean. Here are found coastal plains, whereas central Mexico consists of high plateaus and rugged mountains, including volcanoes, the highest of which is the Pico de Orizaba at 5,610 m.
The terrain and climate vary from deserts in the north to tropical rain forest in the south. Mexico's major rivers include the Río Bravo (known in the US as the Rio Grande), the Río Grijalva, the Río Balsas and the Río Yaqui.
Mexico has a free-market economy with a mixture of modern and outmoded industry and agriculture, increasingly dominated by the private sector. The number of state-owned enterprises in Mexico has fallen from more than 1,000 in 1982 to fewer than 200 in 1999. The administration of President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de León continued a policy of privatizing and expanding competition in sea ports, railroads, telecommunications, electricity, natural gas distribution, and airports which was initiated by his predecessors Miguel de la Madrid and Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
A strong export sector helped to cushion the economy's decline in 1995 and led the recovery in 1996-1999. Private consumption became the leading driver of growth, accompanied by increased employment and higher wages. Mexico still needs to overcome many structural problems as it strives to modernize its economy and raise living standards. Income distribution is very unequal, with the top 20% of income earners accounting for 55% of income.
Following 6.9% growth in 2000, real GDP fell 0.3% in 2001, with the US slowdown the principal cause. Positive developments in 2001 included a drop in inflation to 6.5%, a sharp fall in interest rates, and a strong peso that appreciated 5% against the US dollar. Trade with the US and Canada has tripled since NAFTA was implemented in 1994. Mexico is pursuing additional trade agreements with most countries in Latin America and has signed a free trade deal with the European Union, putting more than 90% of trade under free trade agreements and lessening its dependence on the US.