The last of the uninterrupted 70-year line of Mexican presidents from the PRI, Zedillo is one of the so-called technocrats, the Mexican term for a politician who has never been elected by popular vote in his political career, advancing instead from bureacratic changes from administration to administration. Before his election, he served as secretary for planning and budget and, later, as secretary of public education under President Carlos Salinas. He was chosen to be the campaign chief of Luis Donaldo Colosio when he was chosen as the PRI's presidential candidate. After Colosio's assassination, Zedillo was one of the few PRI members eligible under Mexican law to take his place, since he hadn't been in public office for some time.
Colosio's murder was blamed by many on Salinas, and choosing Zedillo was interpreted as Salinas's way of bypassing the strong political tradition of non reelection, since Zedillo wasn't really a politician, but an economist (just like Salinas) but clearly lacking Salinas's political talent.
After winning the election in 1994 (the cleanest process in years) he was thought by many as a puppet-president, but after the December Mistake, which occurred during his administration although it was blamed on Salinas he governed with relatively ease, relying on the PRI tradition of loyalty to the current president.
In 2000 Zedillo recognized the electoral victory of opposition candidate Vicente Fox before midnight on election day, paving the way for what seemed an unlikely change of power. For this reason some PRI members consider him a traitor, claiming the election was too close to admit defeat so soon and, in any event, the concession should have come from the PRI's candidate, Francisco Labastida, and not the incumbent president.
After leaving charge, Zedillo held many jobs as consultant on many international companies and organizations as an economist. As a president, he had a quiet profile with little scandal or accusations of corruption, though his role in the December Mistake is still questioned.
His political motto was Bienestar para tu familia (Wellbeing for your Family), which is still the butt of jokes and irony because of the deep economic crisis caused by the December Mistake. His lasting act of government was the creation of Progresa, a poverty-fighting program based on subsidizing the poorest families provided their children go to school, later elogiated by next President Fox, who nicknamed it Contigo (With You)..
At one public meeting of the World Economic Forum he coined the term Globaliphobic to refer to globalization detractors. The term became widely used in Mexico, and was quickly countered by Globaliphiliac.