Weight of PRI's History Undercuts Prospect of a Fair Vote in Mexico

Article excerpt

THE polls in Mexico say the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will win Sunday's election. Such poll results before the vote may make it easier to accept a PRI victory as honest. Polls in Mexico are conducted largely by telephone, as they are in the United States. But the difference is that in the US practically everyone has a phone. Only 1 in 8 Mexicans has one. The polling is a bit like asking Cadillac owners if they favor tax cuts for the rich and then claiming the result represents all Americans.

Writer Carlos Fuentes, long favored by the PRI power structure, says that "in the eyes of many Mexicans, the PRI has to lose in order for the elections to be credible." And Bernard Aronson, a former American assistant secretary of state for Inter-American Affairs, warns that powerful figures in the US Congress should not "imply falsely that only the defeat of the PRI will prove the {Mexican} election legitimate." They should defend a PRI victory if the actual voting is "clean."

A clean PRI victory is possible but not plausible. History records so much pre-election unfairness favoring the PRI as to make a mockery of democratic processes. The PRI is the government in most Mexicans' experience. It is painful to say, but only if an opposition candidate wins will there be an improvement in democracy in Mexico. And if the PRI wins on Sunday, it will have power until the year 2000, making its tenure 71 consecutive years, longer than the Communist Party lasted in the old Soviet Union.

Perhaps an analogy might be helpful. Suppose that from the day Herbert Hoover took office in 1929 until today, the Republicans have remained in the White House - and have had huge majorities in the House and Senate.

Suppose that there has been a token right-wing party, analogous to Pat Robertson's group, advocating laissez faire in business and a link between church and state. That would be the National Action Party (PAN). Most of PAN's ideas and programs recently have been co-opted by the PRI to wipe out PAN's growing influence in the conservative northern states.

Suppose that the Democratic Party tries to gain a foothold. This would be the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). …