On the Brink

By Reiss, Adam | Harvard International Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

On the Brink


Reiss, Adam, Harvard International Review


Abstract:

In Mexico, recent electoral reform has emerged hand in hand with what finally appears to be a near-level political field. Padding the domestic and international perception of a true Mexican democracy is the phenomenon of pluralism in the Mexican political arena: a recent slew of opposition-party victories across Mexico has wrested control from the traditionally dominant party. However, the true test of Mexico's foray into the democratic world is commonly believed to rest in the presidency. The July 2000 election represents the familiar challenge of validating democracy, but not in novel fashion: for the first time a PRI candidate stands a realistic chance of losing the electoral battle. Mexico, regardless of the results of that election, has already irrevocably embarked on a path toward democratization.

Text:

Headnote:

Mexico's Rugged Road To Democracy

"Tu voto es libre y secreto. Your vote is free and secret." Never before has this slogan resounded from voting booths across Mexico with such vibrancy and meaning recent electoral reform has emerged hand in hand with what finally appears to be a near-level political field. Padding the domestic and international perception of a "true" Mexican democracy is the phenomenon of pluralism in the Mexican political arena: a recent slew opposition-party victories across Mexico has wrested control from the traditionally dominant party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), known by its Spanish acronym PRI. And while these ostensible advances toward democracy undeniably herald a new era of politics within Mexico, the true test of Mexico's foray into the democratic world is commonly believed to rest in the presidency. A successful challenge to the PRI's singular dominance of the executive branch would be evidence of Mexican democracy in the eyes of the international community and of the Mexican people.

The July 2000 election presents the familiar challenge of validating democracy, but in novel fashion: not only is the presidential race expected to take place on more equal grounds than ever before in Mexican history, but for the first time a PRI candidate stands a realistic chance of losing the electoral battle. Recent PRI defeats at virtually every other level of the Mexican government have magnified the importance of the coming election in establishing Mexico's status as a true democracy. Pundits predicting a PRI defeat in the pivotal presidential election of 2000 abound, but only one certainty exists: Mexico, regardless of the results of that election, has already irrevocably embarked on a path toward democratization. The question is not if a non-PRI candidate will be elected, but when.

A One-Party Legacy

Change in the Mexican political scene has been a long time in coming. Throughout much of the 20th century, Mexico has epitomized the one-party state. From the birth of the PRI's first incarnation in 1929 until the mid-1980s, the PRI maintained a tight stranglehold on every position of governing importance in Mexico. Political posts at the local, state, and federal levels were monopolized by the PRI for more than 50 years, during which the Mexican state became largely synonymous with the party. Piecemeal reforms beginning in the late 1970s gradually allowed opposition parties to grow on the Mexican political scene. Today, the National Action Party (PAN) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) present the two most powerful external threats to PRI power. But the most significant challenge to the PRI leadership may be sustaining internal party unity in the face of these emerging challengers.

The PRI already has several factions; the yawning rift between the conservative "dinosaurs" committed to maintaining PRI hegemony at nearly any cost and the younger reformminded "technocrats" is indicative of the many problems that underscore the lack of a cohesive policy, leadership, and interest within the party. …

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