The return of the PRI
After a period of relatively little comment regionally on the changing of the guard in Mexico’s July 1 general elections, two of our editorials last week focused on the implications of the return to office of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), for that country, its neighbours and the Caribbean, not only in political and economic terms but also with respect to the long-running drugs war that has claimed more than 50,000 lives.
Now, it may seem a little perverse to comment on Mexico again, especially at such a critical time for our nation. Indeed, a few readers occasionally blog that we spend too much time analysing events in other countries when we should be focusing exclusively on issues at home. We would simply remind them that there are always salutary lessons to be gleaned from the experiences of others, especially for a young country like ours eager to avoid the bloodshed and trauma suffered by others with longer histories of struggle and turmoil.
Today, we take a closer look at the return of the PRI, since it was voted out in 2000 after running Mexico for most of its 71 continuous years in power, as a revolutionary, one-party, authoritarian state, with a state-run economy, rigged elections and, unsurprisingly, a high degree of political patronage and corruption.
Significantly, the PRI’s president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, who only won a majority of 38% of the vote, seems to recognise that he still has a lot to do to convince the country as a whole that any return to the bad old ways of the PRI is inconceivable, even as the second-placed candidate, the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador is alleging that Mr Peña Nieto’s campaign engaged in electoral malpractice, including illegal overspending and vote buying. Mr Peña Nieto, who is due to assume office on December 1, denies this and contends that his election was democratic and legitimate.
The country’s electoral institutions maintain that the difference of at least 2.5 million votes and six percentage points between Mr Peña Nieto and Mr López Obrador is not sufficient to alter the result, whatever irregularities there might have been in the electoral process. But a partial recount is under way in the face of strong evidence presented by civil society and independent media that there were several cases of vote buying, coercion, ballot box theft, fraud and overspending.
For Mr López Obrador, however, the argument that these were isolated cases with no tangible effect on the final outcome is difficult to accept and he would have preferred a total recount. As such, there is still a risk that his supporters, particularly university students, might take to the streets, as they did in 2006 when he lost by a narrow margin to Felipe Calderón. The clamour continues to be, naturally, for a free and fair democratic system, in which all votes count and are counted.
Ironically, it was the PRI itself, under the presidency of Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1988-1994, that began the process of electoral reform, political and economic liberalisation, which Mr Peña Nieto must now continue to consolidate and improve. Mr Peña Nieto himself has acknowledged that Mexico has changed since the time of the ancien régime of the PRI and he seems to recognise that his victory does not exactly reflect an overwhelming vote of confidence in himself or his party. In this respect, he has stated his commitment to governing for all, seeking consensus and pursuing a policy of inclusion. This, of course, is what politics and governance should be all about. The days of power for the sake of power are long gone, in maturing democracies at least.
Mr Peña Nieto has a huge task ahead of him, if he is to heal the deep divisions within the country and if Mexico is to continue on its evolutionary path from the days of the so-called “perfect dictatorship” – a phrase coined by the Peruvian writer and Nobel Prize laureate Mario Vargas Llosa – of the old PRI to what today is still regarded by many as an imperfect democracy.
So far, the media-savvy, young politico is making all the right noises. But he will have to overcome a lot of scepticism that he is not just a product packaged for television because of his relative youth and good looks, and will not simply be an instrument of the PRI’s power brokers. He will, moreover, have to demonstrate mature leadership and considerable political deftness if he is to honour his campaign promises and post-election utterances, something which we in Guyana may view with some cynicism given our own experience.