by quickly acknowledging Salinas's victory. The U.S. ambassador in Mexico called to congratulate Salinas as soon as preliminary results were announced. As far as is known, the U.S. government had put no pressure on the Mexican government to hold a fair election. The Reagan administration had temporarily pressed Mexico for cleaner elections in the early 1980s when it had appeared that the primary beneficiary would be the conservative PAN. However, after a bit of turmoil in northern Mexico surrounding the elections in 1985 and 1986, and especially when the populist Cárdenas emerged as the main challenger to the PRI, the U.S. government quickly backed away from pushing Mexico on the issue, at the same time that it was exerting great pressure on the Sandinista government in Nicaragua to conduct competitive elections.
The fact that the institutionalized Mexican regime produced a new president in 1988, even if from the same party, helps explain why many Mexicans were willing to accept the PRI victory and did not join the opposition. In another political system in which the same leader was running for reelection, many in the political elite and nonelite who favored change might have gone over to the opposition. But many members of the political elite stayed with the regime at least through the election, in hopes that the new president would bring the changes that they favored. Thus the regular succession, even if within the same party, once again performed a stabilizing function. There was hope that the combination of institutionalized succession and the historical adaptability of the regime would once again provide at least a partial solution to the problems that Mexico faced in 1988. Again, the Mexican political elite had held together adequately to maintain the regime in power. 76
However, this was the closest call since 1940, and it was not clear in 1988 whether the elite could remain unified through the coming six years. The nation would be watching the new president carefully. Would he be able to achieve the legitimacy, through his policies, that he had not achieved in the election? Would he be able to get the economy moving again after six years of economic disaster? Would he be able and willing to meet the demands for increased democratization of the Mexican political system? Would the Mexican political system remain stable through another presidential term?