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Mexico Politics

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ruled Mexico for 71 years until 2000, with a mix of corruption, electoral fraud and repression that Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa once called "the perfect dictatorship." Every six years simultaneous elections are carried out for the election of President, the 500 seats of the Lower Chamber and the 128 ones of the Senate. Regular federal elections are invariably carried out on the first Sunday of July of the corresponding year.

Article 41 of the constitution of 1917 and subsequent amendments regulate electoral politics in Mexico. Suffrage is universal for all citizens 18 or older, and voting is compulsory, although this provision is rarely enforced. The constitution enshrines the principle of direct election by popular vote of the president and most other elected officials. Executive officeholders may not be reelected, and legislators may not serve consecutive terms. Ordinary elections are held every six years for the president and members of the Senate and every three years for deputies. Gubernatorial elections are distributed throughout a six-year presidential term (sexenio), so that no more than six governorships are contested in any given year.

Elections at the federal, state, and local levels are administered by the Federal Electoral Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral-IFE). The IFE is a semi-autonomous organization established by the 1990 electoral code, consisting of representatives from government and the major political parties. During the 1990s, reforms of the IFE strengthened its capacity to serve as a nonpartisan electoral commission. These reforms included the introduction of majority nonpartisan representation (six out of 11 seats) on the IFE governing board, a legal framework for Mexican and foreign observers to monitor elections, and an independent audit of the national voter list. Voting procedures and requirements incorporate numerous safeguards against fraud, including mandatory voter registration cards bearing photo identification and fingerprints. An autonomous, seven-member Electoral Tribunal adjudicates election disputes.

Although holding multicandidate elections in which the electorate makes the final choice is one of the basic principles of the Mexican Revolution, the electoral process in Mexico has historically fallen short of this liberal ideal. During the sixty-year period of single-party hegemony that followed the consolidation of the revolutionary regime, regular elections became an important symbol of stability and of the regime's self-ascribed democratic character. Beyond fulfilling an ambiguous plebiscitary function, however, elections were not intended as a means of selecting new leaders, nor were they usually relevant to the public policy process. Instead, leadership turnover was centrally controlled by the president, while most significant interaction between public officials and the citizenry took place within the context of day-to-day corporatist bargaining and informal clientelist relationships.

As the beneficiary of a noncompetitive electoral process, the official party historically enjoyed a near monopoly of all levels of public office. For seven decades, the principal political battles in Mexico were fought among elite factions and interest groups within the PRI party structure, with little or no meaningful participation by independent organizations or opposition parties. During this prolonged period of one-party hegemony, several modest electoral reforms were implemented by the government in order to maintain the appearance of electoral democracy and undercut the appeal of latent opposition movements. Electoral reforms enacted during the 1970s included the allotment of a minimum number of congressional seats to both legitimate and "satellite" opposition parties. Additional steps toward greater political pluralism were taken during the early 1980s, when President de la Madrid embarked on a campaign to make local-level politics more competitive.

By the mid-1980s, the electoral arena had been liberalized and the political space for opposition had expanded to such an extent that the PRI found itself increasingly challenged at the ballot box. In 1985 the landslide victories of PRI candidates in gubernatorial and municipal elections in the northern state of Chihuahua led to widespread allegations of electoral fraud by the opposition PAN, which had expected major wins in one of its traditional strongholds. In an unprecedented series of public protests, a variety of civic groups, with support from the Roman Catholic Church, staged massive demonstrations denouncing the official tallies. Responding to increasing popular pressure for democratization, the de la Madrid administration in 1986 introduced an electoral reform package that expanded opportunities for an opposition presence in the congress. The 1986 Electoral Reform Law enlarged the Chamber of Deputies from 400 to 500 seats and doubled the number of congressional seats filled by proportional representation to 200.

During the mid-1990s, an economic crisis stemming from an unsustainable current account deficit and mismanagement of the government bond market plunged Mexico into a severe recession. President Zedillo spent much of his sexenio restoring macroeconomic balance and responding to demands for greater accountability and transparency of public institutions. Zedillo also had to contend with the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, which highlighted the poverty and marginalization that characterized many of Mexico's indigenous communities. In the political realm, the Zedillo administration advanced electoral system reforms that leveled the playing field for opposition parties and set the stage for a genuine transition to democracy. The July 1997 midterm elections left the PRI with a minority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Congress), expanded opposition control of state governorships, and gave the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (Partido de la Revolución Democrática-PRD) control of Mexico City's government.

Before the poll day, all analysts considered that these elections presented the biggest challenge, in Mexico's history, to the world's longest ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), in power since its foundation in 1929. For the first time, the elections were run by an independent and autonomous electoral body, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). Its president, Jose Woldenberg, said in a statement that 99.99 percent of the nation's 113,423 voting stations functioned normally, marking the highest percentage in Mexico's history. Turnout across the nation was extraordinarily high, some 64 per cent of the close to 59 million registered voters. Despite allegations of pressure and vote-buying, the presidential elections were widely seen as Mexico's fairest ever. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who went to Mexico as part of an international monitoring group, said election reforms had brought Mexican politics a new-found legitimacy.

The opposition's momentum carried over into the September 2000 general elections. The PAN candidate, Vicente Fox Quesada, won the historic presidential race, becoming the first opposition head of state since the consolidation of the revolution. This victory put an end to 71 years of political domination by the PRI.

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Page last modified: 06-06-2021 18:23:26 ZULU