The End of Mexico's One-Party Regime

Joseph L. Klesner

Kenyon College

Vicente Fox's unexpected victory in Mexico's July 2, 2000 presidential elections puts a definitive end to Mexico's one-party regime. Until now the longest ruling party in the world, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (or PRI) failed to turn out its core voters in numbers adequate to match the millions of Mexicans who voted for change by supporting Fox in the July balloting (see Table 1). The Fox win means that Mexico has accomplished the rare feat of ending an authoritarian regime by voting it out of office, an event that comes at the end of a process of building an electoral opposition to the former ruling party that stretches back nearly a quarter century. However, while Fox defeated his PRI rival, Francisco Labastida, by a healthy six-point margin--42.5 to 36.1 percent of votes cast--he failed to sweep in a majority of legislators from his Alliance for Change (a coalition of Fox's National Action Party, or PAN, and the Mexican Green Party, or PVEM). Thus Fox faces a Congress in which he will need constantly to build majorities to support his legislative program and in which the threat of a deadlock will loom continually.

Fox's victory reflects the new competitiveness in Mexican politics. Once able to expect to gain 70 percent of the votes, the PRI dropped to about half of the ballots in the 1988 and 1994 presidential elections, and to below 40 percent in the 1997 midterm congressional elections. In 1997, though, the PRI's most threatening rival was not Fox's PAN but the Democratic Revolutionary Party (or PRD) of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, who won the Mexico City mayor's race that year (Klesner 1997) and who ran as the PRD's presidential candidate in 2000, his third outing as the left's standard bearer. In the 1990s, opposition candidates from both the PAN and the PRD have won the municipal presidencies of most of Mexico's largest cities and many of its provincial capitals. Before the July elections, the PAN governed five of the nation's thirty-two states and the PRD five, mostly in coalition with other parties. On July 2, the PAN added the gubernatorial seats in Guanajuato and Morelos while the PRD's Andrés Manuel López Obrador retained for his party the position of jefe de gobierno in the Federal District, the equivalent of mayor of Mexico City. Three parties effectively compete for power in Mexico now where one once governed with little more than token opposition. The PAN's unprecedented success in the July balloting, however, has its two rivals reeling with internal conflicts about how to react to the changes in Mexican politics.

What was at stake in Mexico's 2000 presidential and congressional elections? How can we explain Vicente Fox's surprising victory over the daunting PRI? What will be the consequences of the Fox win for Mexican democracy? Does the PRI's defeat tell us anything about an electoral route to democracy? Let us briefly explore each of these questions.

The Election of 2000: The Stakes and the Campaign

The Centrality of Regime Issues

From the beginning of his unofficial campaign for president in July 1997, Vicente Fox made clear that his quest for office was inspired by the desire to throw the PRI out. Mexico's parties do differ on policy prescriptions. Fox's PAN, for instance, has a more conservative orientation on social issues (church-state relations, abortion, and regulation of sexuality, primarily) than does the PRI, although the two parties' leaders have been close on economic policy views for more than a decade. Since the mid 1980s, however, the primary cleavage issue in Mexican politics has been the future of the one-party regime (Molinar 1991). Indeed, although journalists and scholars usually label the PAN as center-right because of its social conservatism and its support for market-based economic restructuring, whereas they generally place the PRI at the center of Mexico's ideological spectrum because of its secularism and its long history of supporting a large state role in the economy, ordinary Mexicans fix the PAN to the left of the PRI when asked to situate them on an ideological spectrum. The PRI is regarded by the mass public as the most rightist of the major parties precisely because it is seen as favoring the status quo, in regime terms.(1)

The PRI's hegemony began when it was founded as the National Revolutionary Party in 1929. The party took on a corporatist organizational structure when President Lázaro Cárdenas (father of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas) renamed it the Party of the Mexican Revolution in 1938, with "pillars" for the peak associations of peasants, workers, and the "popular sector" (primarily teachers and state bureaucrats). The party took on its current name in 1946, the same year that the Congress passed a highly restrictive electoral law that gave the PRI the capacity to cancel the registration of its rivals and essentially to oversee its own elections, because it controlled the Federal Electoral Commission (Molinar 1991). From the 1940s until the late 1970s, the party spectrum included the PRI, the PAN, and a couple of minor parastatal parties. PRI hegemony was based on a lack of rivals in the vast Mexican countryside and an ability to manipulate the electoral results in the cities if and when the PAN put up a stiff challenge.

Electoral reforms in the 1970s and 1980s opened Congress to minority party representation and lowered the barriers to opposition party registration. In the 1980s, the foreign-debt-induced economic crisis produced much greater sympathy for the opposition parties, especially the PAN, to which disgruntled businesspeople and members of the middle class turned to express their dismay with the PRI's economic mismanagement and the endemic corruption for which the country had become notorious (Mizrahi 1994). However, the PRI refused to yield easily, perpetrating fraud blatantly in the 1980s in the urban areas and the northern states where the PAN had found a strong following (Cornelius 1987).

The defection of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas from the party his father had designed to run at the head of a coalition of leftist organizations in 1988 marked the culmination of the first round of desertions from the PRI. Carlos Salinas de Gortari's victory over Cárdenas in 1988 was characterized by obvious irregularities that fueled a growing sense of cynicism by Mexicans about the cleanliness and fairness of electoral politics. Fortunately for those seeking to bring Mexico to democracy via the electoral path, Salinas had to trade political reforms for the PAN's support of his economic restructuring agenda in the early 1990s. The political disruptions of 1994, a presidential election year when the Chiapas rebellion burst forth and the PRI's first presidential candidate was assassinated, forced Salinas to capitulate to further electoral reforms before his second choice for president, Ernesto Zedillo, was elected. Zedillo, coming to office under the cloud of political crisis and shortly thereafter being forced to devalue the peso, touching off a severe economic downturn (the GDP declined by 7 percent in 1995), promoted yet additional electoral reforms in 1996. The three rounds of electoral reform in the 1990s effectively freed the electoral authorities, now called the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), from PRI and government control; made the formula for representation in the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house) more proportional; provided public funding so that all parties could mount competitive campaigns; and mandated fairer access by all parties to the broadcast media, which had previously refused to give opposition parties time on the air.

In 1997, the PRI suffered its worst defeat to date when the opposition parties denied it its majority in the Chamber of Deputies, forcing Zedillo to govern in the context of divided government. That victory, combined with the win by Cárdenas in the 1997 Federal District election and several major triumphs in gubernatorial and municipal elections by the PAN and the PRD from 1995 onward, created the sense that the PRI could be beaten. Still, entering the 2000 presidential race, the PRI hoped to count on a major economic recovery(2) and its long record of governing the nation to pull out just one more presidential win.

Seeking to capitalize on the sense that the PRI was now vulnerable to defeat, Fox crafted his campaign message to emphasize the regime issue. Fox's campaign slogan was the simple word ¡Ya!, which in this context translates roughly to "Enough already!" The "Y" in Ya could be formed by raising one's arm and forming a "V" with one's fingers in Winston Churchill's universally-understood victory symbol. Lowering the index finger--which Fox did publicly on at least one occasion--would indicate to the PRI the Fox campaign's true feelings toward the ruling party.

A very high percentage of voters--43 percent--reported to Reforma's exit pollsters that the main reason they voted as they did was "for a change" (see Table 2). Among the issues ranked at the top of citizens' concerns about their nation has been corruption.(3) In surveys conducted over the past five years, more than half of Mexicans reported that they had little or no confidence in all of the major national institutions (the government, Congress, the police, political parties, the mass media) except the Catholic Church (Klesner 2000). Fox effectively tapped into Mexicans' frustrations about their political regime when he made it his main theme.

The Emergence of Modern Campaigns

Throughout the campaign, Fox emphasized that his goal was to remove the PRI from the presidency and thereby transform the Mexican regime. To do that, he adopted in a variety of strategies novel in the Mexican context. To begin, he openly sought his party's presidential nomination more than two years before the formal nomination stage. To help to finance this pre-campaign and to gain new supporters, Fox created an organization called Amigos de Fox outside the structure of the PAN. Amigos de Fox remains an enigma both in the scale of its financial contributions to Fox, which certainly counted in the millions of dollars (Espinosa 1998), and in the number of its adherents, which Fox at one point said was 4.5 million (Torre 2000). Amigos de Fox represented a major effort to transcend the financial and human limitations of Mexico's opposition parties by building a non-partisan association dedicated to electing a single politician. How important this organization was to the final outcome, we have yet to ascertain.

Fox sought to court friends among the political elite, too. His campaign team included as advisors several Mexican intellectuals, most notably Jorge Castañeda and Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, leftist political analysts and activists who saw in Fox an opportunity to evict the PRI from the presidency. Other prominent intellectuals and non-PAN opposition politicians declared their support of Fox late in the campaign. This willingness to draw in political supporters from across the political and partisan spectrum reinforced in some PAN leaders a suspicion of Fox. For the Mexico City-based PAN leadership, Fox represented the quintessential "barbarian of the North," a businessman who had joined the party during the economic crisis of the 1980s, who lacked a consistent and elaborate ideology, and who demonstrated a willingness to abandon the formalities of Mexican political discourse while on campaign (Dillon 1999).

Indeed, Fox, a former head of Coca-Cola de México and an entrepreneur in the shoe-making and agro-export industries of his native state of Guanajuato, which he governed from 1994 until 1999, led a rollicking campaign, another of his new contributions to Mexican politics. He dressed in what we would call Western gear--boots, jeans, an open-collared shirt, a cowboy hat, and a giant "Fox" belt buckle--to emphasize his popular roots and to argue that he has been a working man all his life. Political commentators and his opponents dwelt on what they regarded as the vulgar language Fox used on the stump. He did not shy away from openly questioning his main rival's manhood, calling Labastida a "sissy" and "shorty" (Fox is 6'6" while Labastida is almost a foot shorter), and he always emphasized that Labastida was a career politician in the corruption-ridden PRI while he had had to struggle against corruption as a businessman. Negative campaigning had never been a major element of Mexican electoral politics, but it entered in a massive way in 1999-2000.

The parties' capacities to run modern, media-intensive campaigns received a major boost between the last presidential election in 1994 and the 2000 race when the 1996 electoral reform made available ample public monies, both for ordinary operations and to finance campaigns (split 50-50 into those two broad areas). In addition, Mexican electoral law now limits private funding of parties and campaigns to 49 percent of the total a party receives from the IFE and it requires that 90 percent of the campaign be financed by the public monies. The public funds are distributed to the parties based on a complicated formula that seeks to reward the parties somewhat in proportion to their relative popularity (as measured by the last election). The public funding has been generous. For example, the PRI received almost US$100 million of total public funding in 2000, half of which it could spend on its campaigns, and it could raise almost another $50 million from private sources.(4) The result was that Mexico was awash in campaign money,(5) and that campaign money was directed especially to television, where the evening's soap operas and newscasts were financed by the usual detergent commercials and by spots for presidential candidates, spots whose production values rivaled those of U.S. political campaigns.

The PRI had not built its hegemony on slick television advertising, however, even though it learned how to run a modern campaign in the 1990s. The 2000 campaign posed an intriguing issue: could the modern public relations-driven campaign of a Fox overcome the organizational advantages of an incumbent party that had built clientelist networks throughout the nation over the previous seventy years? Given the PRI's reputation for getting out the votes of those who had little reason to voluntarily support the ruling party, many journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worried that the PRI's clientelistic practices would yield victory yet again. Both Mexican and foreign newspapers and NGOs focused much attention on what they alleged was an effort by the PRI to use governmental resources to buy the votes of recipients of governmental programs or to coerce poor voters into casting ballots for the ruling party out of fear that government programs would be canceled in communities that voted for the opposition.(6) Ample evidence suggests that the PRI did attempt to buy votes and to coerce poor voters and those who worked for public enterprises such as the state oil firm, PEMEX (Global Exchange 2000b). However, despite concerns about the PRI's organizational advantages on election day, the PRI apparatus obviously did not carry the election for its candidate.

Party Strategies

Both the PRI and the opposition knew that the 2000 election would be the closest in the nation's history, and both sides engaged in unusual efforts to strengthen their attractiveness to the electorate. The PRI had learned in the two years before this election that when it held primaries to select gubernatorial candidates, it usually won the election, but when it chose time-honored practices of imposing candidates from the party's central headquarters in Mexico City, disappointed local PRI leaders rebelled while voters supported the opposition. Also, Zedillo had promised not to impose his own successor on his party and he became an early advocate of a national primary to choose the PRI's nominee. That primary was held on November 7, 1999, with Labastida winning. Labastida had built a long resumé in over thirty years of government service, having served as the governor of the state of Sinaloa and as minister of Energy, of Agriculture, and of the Interior (the central political ministry). He was opposed by three other candidates, Manuel Bartlett, with an equally long resumé, probably best known as the man who perpetrated the fraud that won Salinas the presidency and generally regarded as a candidate of the PRI's old guard; Humberto Roque, a former party president and legislative leader; and Roberto Madrazo, the governor of Tabasco who had resisted Zedillo's effort to remove him for having committed colossal violations of campaign finance laws during his gubernatorial race in 1994 and who represented a younger group of hardliners than did Bartlett. Madrazo proved to be Labastida's main rival in the primary election, running an aggressive negative media campaign against Zedillo's favorite, but in the end alienating many PRI members with his negative campaign (Estévez and Moreno, 2000).

The opposition parties had also learned from gubernatorial elections in 1998 and 1999. Their lesson was that where they had formed a coalition--often with disaffected members of the PRI as their gubernatorial candidates--they could defeat the PRI even in states regarded as PRI strongholds. The Fox campaign and the PRD attempted for several weeks in late summer 1999 to cement an opposition coalition and thereby present a single opponent to the winner of the PRI's primary. However, the negotiations ultimately failed. Neither Fox nor Cárdenas would consider stepping aside for the other. However, the Fox-C<rdenas rivalry may have been less important in scuttling the lengthy negotiations about a coalition than were the interests of their parties and the constraints of Mexican electoral law. Mexican electoral law stipulates that two or more parties that wish to put forward the same presidential candidate Amust form a coalition with a common platform, in addition to presenting common candidates for the 200 relative majority representative slots, for the 200 proportional representation seats, and the senator seats in the 32 federal entities." (Crespo 2000: 13)Many leaders within the PAN and the PRD thus had personal interests on the line, and the prospect of losing an opportunity to take a congressional seat discouraged many from wholeheartedly promoting the alliance. In the end, the PAN chose to reject an opposition alliance, with Fox expecting (correctly) that his own popularity would carry him and the PAN to electoral success in July (Preston 1999). However, both the PAN and the PRD formed alliances with smaller parties, the PAN pairing with the Green Party (PVEM) in the Alliance for Change, the PRD with the Labor Party (PT) and three smaller leftist parties in the Alliance for Mexico.

Explaining the Fox Victory

For most observers, Fox's victory came as a pleasant surprise, and the margin of his win was most unexpected. Some polls had shown Fox ahead by mid June, but the majority found the PAN and PRI candidates in a statistical tie (Berumen y Asociados 2000). Reforma newspaper, for example, had Labastida ahead of Fox by three percentage points (equal to the margin of error) in its last poll taken two weeks before the election, a margin that had not changed in the previous month. Indeed, in Reforma's pre-election polls, Fox had not moved from about 39-40 percent of the vote from February, although Labastida's support had declined from 48 percent in January to 42 percent in May and June. However, these predictions and those of all of the media organizations publishing polls were made with two large unknowns: around 20 percent of respondents reported they were undecided even as late as mid June and the pollsters could not be sure whether respondents would actually vote. In these two unknowns Fox had much latitude to defeat his rivals if the undecideds chose to cast their votes for Fox or stay home and if Fox supporters were more likely to vote than the PRI's traditional voter base. So who voted for Fox?

Who Voted for Fox?

In part, as Wayne Cornelius (2000) has argued, "Demographic trends have finally caught up with the PRI." The PRI's base of electoral support has come from rural areas and poor states, populated with older voters who remember the years of the "Mexican miracle," with illiterates and peasants who are easily coerced, and with housewives who have traditionally feared change (Klesner 1993; Lawson 1998). However, a smaller and smaller share of Mexico matches this profile. Mexico is now more than 75 percent urban, its electorate is populated with 12 million voters who could not vote only six years ago, most Mexicans work in the industrial or service sectors, and the illiteracy rate is only about 10 percent. Urban voters are less easily herded to the polls and forced to vote for the ruling party than are peasants; young voters don't remember any part of the Mexican miracle, and thus feel no need to thank the PRI for its efforts; and educated citizens are more apt to seriously consider alternatives to the way they or their parents have voted in the past.

As Table 3 indicates, Fox walked away with the youth vote, especially that of students, while Labastida scored much better with the elderly. Fox's advantage over his PRI rival among those with higher levels of education approached 3-to-1. Housewives continued to favor Labastida, but by a close margin. Fox's ascendance was particularly notable among private sector employees and students, while those in the public sector were more likely than their privately-employed counterparts to stick with the PRI, although even among state employees the PAN candidate came in first. Cárdenas, like Labastida, did better among the elderly, those with lower levels of education, and those employed in the public sector than their younger, better educated, privately-employed counterparts. These trends are not new; they characterized voting patterns in 1994 and 1997 too, but in 2000 Fox was able to convince larger shares of each of the social groups that have traditionally supported the opposition to vote for him.

But not only did Fox win over the young and the better educated. He also gained the votes of those who paid close attention to the campaign and of those who said the main reason they cast their votes as they did was "for a change" (see Table 2), across social groups. Indeed, recent studies of Mexican voting behavior have concluded that socioeconomic and demographic characteristics explain the vote less well than voters' attitudinal structure (Domínguez and McCann 1996). Fox's campaign advisors seem to have appreciated this insight as they sought to convert those who voted PRD in recent elections to Fox by urging them to cast a voto útil, a strategic vote to oust the PRI. As Table 2 shows, Fox took 30 percent of those who voted for Cárdenas in 1994. Likewise, those who had voted against the Labastida nomination in the PRI primary presented an opportunity to Fox. Reforma's exit poll found that 53 percent of those who had voted for Madrazo in November's primary chose Fox in July. Of course, those who disapproved of President Zedillo's job performance were relatively easy picking for the PAN candidate.

Geographically, the north-south division of the nation noted in past elections (Klesner 1997) persisted in July 2000 (see Figure 1). Always competitive in the north and the center-west (Fox is from the latter region), the PAN swept all but the poorest states of those regions and Labastida's home state of Sinaloa. The PRI's strength remained Mexico's deep south, the region that is proving unable to adapt to globalization and economic integration and in which the PRI's inclination to use violence to preserve its domination has been most manifest. The PAN made spectacular gains in the greater Mexico City area where Cárdenas and the PRD had done so well in 1997. The PAN's gains included the state of México, which surrounds the capital and forms the most populated state in the federation, and Morelos, where the PRD had won three of four electoral districts in 1997.

The Critical Role of Turnout

A key to explaining the Fox triumph comes from turnout statistics. In the 180 federal electoral districts (of 300 total) carried by the PAN standard bearer, turnout averaged 65.0 percent. In contrast, participation only reached an average of 60.3 percent in the 109 districts won by Labastida and 59.5 percent in the 11 taken by Cárdenas. The PRI had built its hegemony on its capacity to turn out voters in rural Mexico (Klesner 1987). In July 2000 it failed at this essential task.

The turnout rate in July 2000 reached 64 percent, a respectable rate of participation, but not historically high by Mexican standards. In 1994, a crisis year, turnout was 78 percent. Preliminary analysis of post-election survey data indicates that those with higher levels of education were more likely to have voted and those in cities were slightly more likely to have turned out. Those more interested in politics and those more convinced that the electoral process was clean voted at higher rates. Finally, those with strong partisan attachments voted more than those who claimed no party affiliation. Interestingly, however, those without partisan attachment who admitted leaning toward the PAN and the PRD voted at much higher rates than those independents who admitted some sympathy for the PRI or who said they leaned toward no party at all.(7)

These preliminary findings suggest that the PRI simply could not get out the voters it had to in order to win on July 2. Concerns that the PRI would steal a victory by buying votes and by coercing the poor do not seem to have been borne out in large enough numbers to have mattered. We should note, however, that the PRI's excessive reliance on high rural turnout ended more than a decade ago (Klesner 1987). Expectations that the PRI would resort to a mobilization effort in the countryside to overcome its weaknesses in urban areas seem to have ignored the dwindling size of the rural electorate, or again, that demographics finally had caught up to the PRI.

Consequences for Mexican Democracy

This election will have unprecedented impacts on Mexico's political development whether Fox proves to govern successfully or not. His election ends the one-party hegemony of the PRI and it likely will bolster democratic values among the Mexican citizenry. Indeed, during the course of the presidential campaign, Mexicans' perceptions of how democratic their country is grew markedly (see Table 4). We cannot explore all of the consequences of this election for Mexican democracy, but we should consider three aspects of the coming six-year term: divided government, the party system, and the central political issues that Fox will face.

Divided Government Again

More Mexicans split their tickets in 2000 than has been the case in the past, with the result that the congressional candidates for the Alliance for Change received considerably fewer votes than their presidential standard bearer. A divided legislature in both houses is the outcome (see Figure 2). The Alliance for Change took the largest number of seats in the Chamber of Deputies (223), but Fox's own party will only have 208 of those deputies, to 209 for the PRI. In the Senate, in contrast, the PRI took the first plurality with 60 seats, to 51 for Fox's coalition and 17 for the Alliance for Mexico. The PRI's greater success in the Senate contests can be attributed to the unusual rules by which senators are chosen. In effect, the PAN/PVEM coalition finished third in nine states, mostly in the south, gaining no seats in those states, while the PRI finished third only in the Federal District (Mexico City).(8) This outcome leaves Fox's coalition thirteen seats short of half the seats in the Senate.

Even if the Alliance for Change had won a majority in each chamber, Fox would not have enjoyed the same level of party discipline exhibited by the PRI over the years, especially given that some members of his coalition would be PVEM members. With divided houses, his challenge will be yet greater. Although he has promised to open his cabinet to the most qualified individuals regardless of partisan affiliation, such an effort to reach out to other parties to staff the executive branch may mean little for executive-legislative relations. Fox certainly will not be able to form a coalition in the Congress to support his government, nor need he do so given that Mexico does not have a parliamentary regime. Both the PRI and the PRD have promised that they will be in opposition to Fox, although some leaders of each party have indicated a willingness to work with the new government on an issue-by-issue basis (Dresser 2000; Mercado 2000), a practice followed by Zedillo during the 1997-2000 legislature (Casar 2000). If Fox can build links to the PRI on economic policy and to the PRD on issues of political reform and the restructuring of the state, he should be able to pursue his legislative agenda without undue constraints. Much, however, depends on the discipline of each of those parties' legislative delegations. Finally, we should note that Fox governed in Guanajuato with a Congress in which the PAN had no majority, so he has experience with divided government.

Future of the Party System

The discipline of the PRD and the PRI will be a key political issue because the July election has produced deep fissures in each party. While Cárdenas and the PRI's Manuel Bartlett both came out with early statements that their parties would not cooperate with Fox (Dillon 2000; Sandoval 2000), neither speaks for his whole party. Both the PRI and the PRD are undergoing deep internal conflicts about their futures, with no resolution to these struggles yet attained.

The PRI's challenge is, of course, much greater. The former ruling party was created not to be a party that contended for power but simply the party that would always be in power. The party has been inclusive in terms of the social origins of its recruits and their ideological orientations for decades. That approach served the PRI well as a governing party but it may produce incoherence when the party joins the opposition. Recognizing this problem, some PRI leaders, including southern governors like Tabasco's Madrazo, have urged the party to abandon the neoliberalism that Salinas and Zedillo brought to the fore and return to the party's populist and economic nationalist roots (Cornelius 2000). Others associated with Labastida and the technocratic wing of the PRI are less willing to give up the globalizing orientation that characterized the party in recent years. That the PRI might split into two or more parties cannot be ruled out, nor that Fox will be unable to find enough PRI legislators to support his legislative initiatives. In the meantime, the struggle within the PRI is loud and the criticism associated with July's loss has been biting.

The PRD faces difficulties too. Cárdenas failed in his third bid for the presidency and his 16.6 percent of the vote was a full 2 percent below that of his coalition's congressional candidates. Although other PRD leaders avoid blaming Cárdenas personally for the party's defeats in July, outside observers argue that the party needs new leadership more able to forge links with a society rapidly embracing globalization than Cárdenas, who still espouses revolutionary nationalism (Fineman 2000). Yet without Cárdenas to hold the party together, the rivalries of the leaders of its factions could tear it apart. Party president Amalia García recently stated that she spends 85 percent of her time dealing with internal disputes (Fineman 2000).

The PAN too will confront challenges even as Fox ascends to the presidency. Fox's relations with other party leaders have been mixed at best (Jáquez 2000), and certainly some aspiring office-seekers will be disappointed, especially as Fox reaches out to the private sector and to other politicians to staff his administration. He will not be the party leader in the way that presidents from the PRI were party heads. The PAN's national organization remains weak, although PAN governors seem to be building state-level organizations that could be the bases of a strengthened national party apparatus, or rivals to it. How the Amigos de Fox will be integrated into the PAN remains an issue too (Montes and Vera 2000). Moreover, many PAN leaders worry that the party's ideological identity will be challenged by the ascendance of the ideologically-eclectic Fox. It should be pointed out, however, that the PAN's ideological purity slowed its emergence as a modern catch-all party, which it now seems poised to become.

Unresolved Issues

Four issues deserve special mention. First, having campaigned on a platform promising to wipe out corruption and impunity, Fox will be under pressure to investigate corruption in past governments and to reopen criminal cases that many suspect previous governments closed in order to protect powerful persons in the PRI. Two prominent cases which many wish to see reopened are the murder of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI's first 1994 presidential candidate, and the shooting death of the Cardinal of Guadalajara in what the government called a gunfight between drug gangs but which many suspect to have been a premeditated murder. Resolving old criminal cases and investigating corruption may be important in establishing a culture respectful of law and order in Mexico, but they will be politically costly to pursue and a burden on the time of the new administration, much as have been the prosecution of human rights violators in former military regimes. Fox may prefer to get on with the business of governing and resolving other issues, such as the still growing gap between the rich and the poor and the persistence of guerrilla insurrections.

Mexico's neoliberal development strategy has aggravated the maldistribution of its income and wealth, both in personal terms and regionally. The north and center-west have prospered under neoliberalism and the incorporation of Mexico into the North American Free Trade Area while the South has not. Those peasants and urban poor who have been marginalized for decades have become more marginalized as globalization has come to their country. Fox's defeat of the PRI will bring with it expectations that a president from the opposition will be able to solve Mexico's development problems. However, these problems have proved intractable for decades and Fox's PAN supports a market-based development strategy. Hence, any resolution of Mexico's distribution dilemma will not come soon and under Fox probably only as the result of the trickling down of any additional economic growth he can achieve. Fox does pledge to invest in education, a promising way to promote the betterment of Mexico's poor, but paying for improvements in education will be costly and Fox has already run into criticism for stating that taxes must be raised (Sarmiento 2000; Pérez 2000).

Fox also hopes to resolve the insurgencies that have surfaced in Chiapas, Guerrero, and other southern states in the past seven years. To the extent that he can dislodge the PRI hardliners from positions of power in those states and localities, he will have removed one large barrier to social peace. In Chiapas, for example, the PRI is likely to lose the gubernatorial election to the candidate of an opposition alliance that includes all parties other than the PRI on August 20 [rewrite after August 20] (Hernández 2000). Local PRI strongmen have stood in the way of a resolution of the Chiapas conflict almost from the day it began in January 1994. However, most of the guerrilla groups have also opposed the neoliberal development model, too, arguing that it unjustly impoverishes the already poor peasants of southern Mexico. Again, Fox does not propose to change the development model significantly, thus this cause of guerrilla unrest will likely remain.

Finally, Fox's most important policy initiatives will involve reforming the state itself, which has three dimensions: disentangling the PRI from the government, reorganizing the executive branch, and strengthening Mexican federalism. Disengaging the PRI from the state is necessary because Mexico has no merit-based civil service and how deeply into the bureaucracy political appointments reach is simply not clear. Many Mexican bureaucrats have a technocratic orientation with which the PAN and Fox should have not difficulties. And because Mexico has no civil service law, bureaucrats can be removed if they prove of the wrong partisanship. However, Fox may need to be vigilant about the orientations of the vast Mexican state.

Fox has already stated that he will eliminate the Ministry of Agrarian Reform; Salinas ended agrarian reform a decade ago, so the ministry is superfluous. Other ministries he plans to restructure include the Attorney General's Office, where corruption and relationships with drug traffickers have undermined the administration of law. Fox proposes creating a Federal Agency of Investigation modeled loosely on the FBI to replace the Federal Judicial Police, an agency currently under the attorney general. The Ministry of the Interior (Gobernación) will also have to be restructured if Fox wishes to eliminate bastions of authoritarianism. Finally, the PAN and Fox have been advocates of greater autonomy for Mexico's states and municipalities which will require a rearrangement of the nation's excessively centralized fiscal system.


By electing Vicente Fox Mexicans took a large step toward consolidating their democracy, convincing themselves that they could elect a president from a party other than the long-ruling PRI. In so doing, they have brought democracy to their nation by a peaceful and constitutional path, a rarity among transitions to democracy in the region. Redoubts of authoritarianism certainly remain in the complex Mexican political system and they will pose a challenge to the new Fox administration. However, Mexicans have much about which to be proud as they open the twenty-first century.

Sources Cited

Berumen y Asociados. 2000. "Todas las encuestas para presidente," Este País, no. 111, June.

Casar, María Amparo. 2000. "Legislatura sin mayoría: Cómo va el score," Nexos, no. 265, January.

Corchado, Alfredo, and Laurence Iliff. 2000. "Ruling Party Has Hold on Voters," Dallas Morning News, May 28.

Cornelius, Wayne A. 1987. "Political Liberalization in an Authoritarian Regime: Mexico, 1976-1985." In Mexican Politics in Transition, ed. Judith Gentleman. Boulder: Westview.

Cornelius, Wayne A. "The New Mexico: Fox's Victory will Lead to a Change--and a Disintegrating PRI," San Diego Union-Tribune, July 16.

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Table 1

Mexican Presidential Election Results

July 2, 2000

Votes Percentage Adjusted Percentage
Vicente Fox 

(Alliance for Change)

15,988,740 42.5 43.4
Francisco Labistida 


13,576,385 36.1 36.9
Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas 

(Alliance for Mexico)

6,259,385 16.6 17.0
Gilberto Rincón Gallardo (Democracía Social) 592,075 1.6 1.6
Manuel Camacho 


208,261 0.6 0.6
Porfirio Muoz Ledo 


157,119 0.4 0.4
Unregistered 32,457 0.0 0.0
Nullified 789,838 2.1 --
Total 37,604,260 99.9 99.9
Turnout 64.0

Source: Instituto Federal Electoral.

Table 2

The Political Attitudinal Bases of Fox's Victory

Labastida  Fox Cárdenas Total
Interest in Campaign
Much 33 49 16 47
Some 37 44 16 30
Little 39 39 19 17
None 44 36 17 5
Main Reason for Vote
For a change 15 66 18 43
Always vote for the same candidate 50 28 18 9
Obligation 56 31 13 2
Custom 82 12 5 7
He's the least bad 40 37 20 4
Loyalty to the party 79 8 12 5
Candidate's proposals 42 37 17 22
Other 43 34 22 6
Don't know 55 27 14 2
Welfare beneficiaries
Yes 56 27 16 15
No 32 48 17 83
Don't know 28 54 28 2
Evaluation of President Zedillo
Approve 47 38 12 66
Disapprove 11 60 26 29
Don't know 28 47 21 5
Vote in 1994
Zedillo (PRI) 65 25 8 36
Fernández (PAN) 5 88 6 18
Cárdenas (PRD) 6 30 61 13
Did not vote 31 50 16 24


Source: Exit Poll by Reforma, 3 July 2000, p. 8A. N=3,313.

Table 3

The Social Bases of Fox's Victory

Labastida  Fox Cárdenas Total
Male 32 47 20 52
Female 40 43 14 48
18-24 32 50 17 18
25-29 34 47 16 16
30-34 34 49 15 15
35-39 37 47 12 13
40-45 35 41 20 11
45-50 37 44 18 8
50-54 40 46 13 6
55-59 43 32 24 5
60+ 42 35 22 8
None 46 30 21 8
Primary 46 35 18 34
Secondary 34 49 15 22
Preparatory 28 53 16 21
University 22 60 15 15
Public sector 37 41 19 18
Private sector 31 53 15 26
Self-employed 36 42 19 24
Student 19 59 17 5
Housewife 43 41 15 25
North 37 50 12 23
Center-West 37 48 12 18
Center 34 43 20 35
South 37 41 20 24


Source: Exit Poll by Reforma, 3 July 2000, p. 8A. N=3,313.

Table 4

Mexicans' Evaluations of the Regime

Do you believe that Mexico is a democracy today? February May June July
Yes, it is a democracy 41 44 48 63
No, it is not a democracy 46 43 45 28
Don't know/no answer 13 13 7 9

Source: Mexico 2000 Panel Study, as reported in Reforma, July 29, 2000.

Figure 1


Figure 2

Composition of the Mexican Congress, 2000-3



1. On a ten-point scale, with 0 representing the far left and 10 the far right, respondents to a February survey placed the PRI at 6.8, the PAN at 5.5, and the PRD at 3.7. Those same respondents placed themselves at 6.5. Mexico 2000 Panel Study, first wave, February 19-27, 2000. N=2370.

2. GDP grew by 3.7 percent in 1999 and is projected to grow by more than 5 percent in 2000, according to the website of the Finance Ministry--

3. In the February wave of the Mexico 2000 Panel Study, corruption ranked second, after poverty, in the responses to the question, "What would you say is the most important problem that confronts the country today?"

4. For a thorough report on campaign finance, see Washington Office on Latin America (2000).

5. The IFE allocated 1.5 billion pesos of public funds for the campaigns (more than $150 million), and an identical amount for other party functions during 2000. See de Swaan (2000).

6. See Global Exchange/Alianza Cívica 2000a; Corchado and Iliff 2000.

7. Author's preliminary analysis of data from the Mexico 2000 Panel Study, Second Cross-Sectional Survey, July 2000.

8. For the Senate, three senators are chosen in each state. The party winning the plurality of Senate votes in a state is awarded two seats and the party finishing second gets the third. Thirty-two Senate seats (one-quarter of that body) are chosen from PR lists in a single national district.