Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, June 11, 2012

Changing political culture a limit on the new PRI

Shannon K. O'Neil, writing in Foreign Affairs, suggests that Mexico's new political culture will limit the opportunities for the PRI to return to its old ways even if its candidate wins the presidency.The details in the article are worth your time and probably your students' time as well.

The Old Guard in a New Mexico: How a Stronger Democracy Will Check the PRI
After voting the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) out… twelve years ago, the country looks poised to bring it back… The same goes for Mexico's congress. With every seat up for grabs, the PRI looks to make headway and perhaps gain a majority in both houses.

Political rivals and anxious commentators question whether a PRI victory will return Mexico to its less than democratic past. After all, for decades the PRI maintained control by buying votes, co-opting the opposition, and, at times, wielding a heavy repressive hand…

Whether the PRI set to take power is a new version of its old self is less important than the fact that Mexico's democratic institutions will hem in the next president, regardless of party or personal preferences.

Today, the PRI casts a wide ideological umbrella, encompassing just about everyone from market-friendly technocrats to progressive nationalists. It embraces polling gurus and media-savvy political operatives alongside traditional union and campesino bosses. These various groups have coalesced behind Peña Nieto, determined to move past their embarrassing third-place finish in the 2006 elections…

Mexican democracy has evolved in ways that make a return to wholesale PRI dominance unlikely. Consider how the role and power of the legislative and judicial branches have changed since the 1990s. During the old PRI's heyday, Congress was little more than a rubber stamp, with the PRI's delegates rarely questioning the edicts of their president. Now, Congress is a real fulcrum for negotiations and debates between Mexico's three main parties. Even if the PRI gains a majority in both houses, the administration will need the support of at least a segment of the opposition to pass the big-ticket items on the agenda -- energy, tax, labor, and political reform -- some of which would require constitutional changes. Unlike the PRI of the past, whoever wins will need to work with the opposition in order to govern.

Likewise, the Supreme Court is more powerful than in decades past. It now provides a check on the president and on vested interests…

On a broader scale, over the last 12 years, power has been increasingly decentralized, making a return to the PRI's historical hallmark, the "imperial presidency," virtually impossible. Once upon a time, a leader such as Carlos Salinas -- president from 1988 to 1994 -- could dismiss half of the sitting governors during his term without a hint of blowback. Today states and their elected leaders are autonomous, both politically and increasingly economically, from the federal government…

Civil society is stronger in Mexico today, too. A few decades ago, if the PRI found itself displeased with news coverage, it could literally stop the presses, as it held a monopoly on newsprint. Now Mexico has developed a vibrant and fiercely independent press, led by El Universal, Reforma, and La Jornada. Mexican voters and society have also gained a stronger voice, using social media and information now publicly available through Mexico's freedom of information law to shame corrupt bureaucrats and politicians…

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