This book is not a general description of the Mexican political system, but an attempt to explain one of the most remarkable characteristics of that system -- its stability for a period that surpasses that of any other Latin American country. It is, therefore, an interpretive essay that seeks to answer one central question: why has Mexico been governed by the same political regime since 1920 while all other Latin American countries have experienced violent overthrow of governments since World War II? The book argues that Mexico's political stability has been a result of six factors: institutionalization, effectiveness, adaptability, elite unity, location, and coercion.
The reader will note that democracy is not in my list of factors. In the past, democracy was not essential for stability in Mexico. The Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa said in 1990: "The Mexican political system is not democraticlet's not kid ourselves. It is a unique system that has no equivalents in the world, that has managed to keep a party in power by adapting to circumstances with a versatility that no other authoritarian system has managed" ( Proceso, no. 723, September 10, 1990, quoted in Andrew Reding, "Mexico: The Crumbling of the 'Perfect Dictatorship,'" World Policy Journal 8 (2) Spring 1991, p. 257). He called the Mexican system "the perfect dictatorship," by which he meant that it was a system of veiled authoritarianism that perpetuated a party in power, rather than a person, allowing some criticism as long as it did not fundamentally threaten the system. However, the regime was willing to use all means, "including the worst," to suppress criticism that might threaten its rule. Thus Mexican political stability has been made possible in part because of one-party rule. As we approach the end of the century, however, it may be that political stability in Mexico is no longer possible without democracy. The challenge of the future, therefore, is whether the Mexican political system has the versatility to transform itself peacefully by adapting to the demands of the twenty-first century.