Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, December 07, 2012

The new PRI

The political landscape has changed during the last decade in Mexico. The PRI claims it has changed as well. Not everyone is sure of the latter.

Old party returns to govern changed Mexico
The political party that ruled Mexico for seven straight decades is back, assuring Mexicans there’s no chance of a return to what some called ‘‘the perfect dictatorship’’ that was marked by a mixture of populist handouts, rigged votes and occasional bloodshed…

President Enrique Pena Nieto calls it a crowning moment of an effort to reform and modernize the party that ruled without interruption from 1929 to 2000.

He promises an agenda of free enterprise, efficiency and accountability. He’s pushing for reforms that could bring major new private investment in Mexico’s crucial but creaking state-owned oil industry, changes that have been blocked for decades by nationalist suspicion of foreign meddling in the oil business.

PRI leaders acknowledge the party is returning to power in a Mexico radically different from what it was in the party’s heyday. The nation has an open, market-oriented economy, a freer, more aggressive press, an opposition that can communicate at the speed of the Internet and a population that knows the PRI can be kicked out of power…

Political analyst Raymundo Riva Palacio says a return to the old ways is unlikely, noting there are now independent electoral authorities, judges and rights groups to help keep authorities in line. ‘‘I don’t think they'll try to restore the old regime, like we saw in the 1970s,’’ he said.

But Alejandro Sanchez, the assistant leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), warns of an attempt ‘‘to return to the authoritarian regime of the 1970s, when torture, contempt for opponents and impunity were the norm.’’

The PRI no longer holds a majority in Congress, so it will probably have to negotiate more.

PRI members in Congress… supported a bill that would give federal and state auditors more authority to block spending by state governors, who currently face little fiscal oversight. That may help curb the unchecked power governors have acquired since the PRI lost power, but some critics see the measure as a bid to return to the days when presidents controlled the states from Mexico City…

‘‘We have learned from the mistakes we made,’’ Coldwell, the PRI’s leader, told a local radio station. ‘‘The people have given us a chance, and we have to be very conscious of the fact that if we don’t do well, they won’t give us a third chance.’’

In fact, the PRI had already begun changing in the 1980s. Stung by public outrage over some of the economic messes it had made, the party oversaw the privatization of inefficient state-owned industries that were once vast reservoirs of patronage jobs. It gradually allowed electoral reforms that finally gave opponents a chance to win elections.

During its time in power, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) tried to lend a more informal air to the presidency. The office also became weaker in the face of the rising independence of the Supreme Court as well as state governors, many from opposition parties who owed no allegiance to the president. Opposition also increased in Congress.

Ruben Aguilar, who was a spokesman for then President Vicente Fox, the National Action candidate who defeated the PRI in 2000, said he’s willing to give the PRI ‘‘the benefit of the doubt,’’ in part because the party is known for pragmatism. It never had much ideology beyond keeping itself in power, and returning to old abuses could be suicidal…

Many Mexicans retain a cynical fondness for the old party’s populism, as reflected in one old saying that translates roughly: ‘‘They stole, but at least they let others get what they dropped.’’

Some expect a comeback of the PRI political style that combined a devotion to high-flown rhetoric, strict obedience among party members and an unquestioned respect for the authority of the president…

The PRI’s discipline is enshrined in another old saying. Counseling against jostling for political position, late PRI union boss Fidel Velazquez counseled, ‘‘He who moves around doesn’t show up in the photo.’’

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