By having Mexico's reputed No. 1 drug lord arrested, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari again surprised cynics who had initially considered his pledge to fight high-level corruption an empty campaign promise.

In what amounted to a coup against the oil workers union, Salinas used the army to arrest allegedly corrupt union leaders in January.He jailed stockbrokers accused of fraudulent practices a month later.

This month, alleged drug kingpin Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo was arrested.

It is all part of Salinas' battle to regain the confidence of Mexicans who blame corruption for seven years of lost economic opportunity.

If he fails, some analysts say, his Institutional Revolutionary Party could lose its hold on power. Such observers hold that Salinas has been on the attack since taking office Dec. 1 because he has no choice.

"Salinas has to go against his own government, its own collaborators, to regain legitimacy. He realizes that if the patronage system continues, it's going to collapse in upon itself," said Samuel del Villar, a political scientist at the Colegio de Mexico and adviser to Salinas' predecessor, former President Miguel de la Madrid.

Salinas' election in July was the most disputed in the history of the party, which has governed Mexico since it was founded 60 years ago. He won just more than half the vote, but reports abounded of multiple voting, stolen ballot boxes and other fraud.

"The results of July 6 were as much a rebellion against corruption as they were against the government," del Villar said.

Salinas faces a skeptical public; every Mexican president in recent decades has come into office boldly declaring their intention to battle corruption.

He has inherited cynicism over the failure of his predecessors to tackle corruption fueled by the oil-boom years. Many still bitterly criticize Jose Lopez Portillo, claiming he and his allies stole the country blind - claims Portillo denies.

He was followed in 1982 by de la Madrid, "the last president who held public confidence that he could confront corruption, and he lost it," del Villar said.