By RICARDO CASTILLO
It was 30 years ago that Mexico took a veritable turn towards becoming a democratic system. At the time, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) still ruled the nation. Yet the man who became president on Dec. 1, 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, noticed that the lights had changed and that the PRI had to let go of some – but, not all, of course – of its almighty power.
Previous to 1988, the PRI had undergone a splinter as presidential hopeful Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, when it became clear he would be the PRI candidate, left the party, followed by a large contingency of noteworthy politicians led by current Chamber of Deputies President Porfirio Muñoz Ledo. At the time, Cárdenas and Muñoz Ledo represented the liberal left within the monolith PRI.
On election day, the first Sunday in July, when everyone thought that Cárdenas had won the election, Salinas was declared the winner. What happened at the time, as many will recall, was that then-Interior Secretary and Election Organizer Manuel Bartlett Díazreceived a direct order from President Miguel de la Madrid to stop counting votes, since it was clear that Cárdenas was ahead for a sweep. Such was the omnipotent power of the president back then.
Salinas governed for six years, in tandem with the National Action Party (PAN), in an attempt to form a two-party political system pretty much like in the United States, with the PRI sharing similarities with the Democrats and the conservative PAN more like the Republicans.
The PAN legislators backed most of the bills President Salinas sent to Congress and also backed him up personally. In exchange, Salinas eased the grip of the tight-fisted PRI had over elections and literally let PAN candidates win the state governorships in Baja California, Guanajuato and Chihuahua.
But … there’s always a but … the coalition of the leftwing parties mosaic (from pink to deep red) that had led Cárdenas to nearly winning the presidency opted to stay together and in 1989 – on the Cinco de Mayo holiday – they integrated the new Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) that was the amalgam of leftist groups.
At the end of his mandate Salinas, could not help but see that his two-party gringo-style system had been overshadowed by a third party that was not on his agenda in 1988. Salinas was a fierce enemy of the PRD, which immediately gained great popularity in Mexico City.
It was in 1992 that Salinas had to yield control over electoral organizing, which was taken away from the Interior Secretariat and handed over to an autonomous Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which has since kept watch on the legality of Mexican elections.
President Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000) saw then that including the leftist group was inevitable, and, during his first two years in tenure, allowed negotiations between Carlos Castillo Peraza from the PAN and Porfirio Muñoz Ledo from the PRD. The result of all this was a political reform that led to the 1997 midterm elections, in which the PRD won the Mexico City government – the largest in terms of population – and the PAN went ahead to win governorships in five different states.
Thus was born Mexico’s party-cracy system – (partidocracia, in Spanish) – along with the permission for the creation of several minor parties, such as the Green (PVEM) and the Labor Party (PT), that have since come and gone.
By the year 2000 and continuing through to 2012, the PAN managed to oust the PRI from presidential power with the elections of Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderón. In a fixed move between the PRI and the PAN, the PRI returned to power in 2012 in what many an observer saw a coalition to keep PRD twice- candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) out of the presidency. In fact, Presidents Fox and Calderón fully backed the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. Calderón did so by not supporting the PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez Mota, while clearly misogynous Fox publicly announcing he was voting for Peña Nieto. This marked the end of Mexico’s “party-cracy.”
As soon as Peña Nieto was sworn in on Dec. 1, 2012, he announced that both the PAN and the PRD leaders fully backed his “Pact For Mexico,” inked on Dec. 2.
At PRD, however, AMLO cried foul and pointed to a sellout by the group of leaders nicknamed “Los Chuchos” (several of them are still named Jesús – “Chucho” is a diminutive for Jesús). He then began forming a splinter movement that coalesced in 2014 with the full formation of the National Regeneration Movement (Morena). As in 1988 at the PRI, all “true leftists” abandoned the ranks of the PRD and began endorsing AMLO’s third and final presidential campaign.
The voters’ rejection of the party-cracy last July 1 was brutal. The PRI, the PAN and the PRD managed to divide the anti-AMLO vote by 16, 24 and 5 percent respectively.
It was then and is now clear that Peña Nieto’s once-highly valued and touted “Pact for Mexico” was crumbling into pieces, led by the outright failure of his Energy and Education Reforms, and even the PAN finished in second place.
In the eyes of most Mexican political observers, both the PRI and the PRD are through as political forces. The sole remainder of the “Pact for Mexico” members, the PAN, has a rocky road ahead in its future.
On Sunday, Nov. 11, the PAN held internal elections and Marko Cortés became the party’s new president. However, once the Marko Cortés victory was announced, former President Calderón,who began his career precisely in 1988, turned in his resignation as a member, .
Calderon announced that, as of January, he and his wife and former presidential hopeful, Margarita Zavala de Calderón (she dropped out as an independent from the 2018 race), will start the formation of a new party, which will surely feed on current unhappy PAN members and voters, thus weakening the party even more than the past election.
This is pretty much an overview of the Mexican political landscape for the upcoming three years, until the 2021 midterm elections. The once-mighty party-crazy is in shambles, while AMLO’s Morena holds not only the presidency, but also a majority in both houses in the Mexican Congress.
Are we back to the one-party system dictatorship? AMLO says no, but let’s hope that wielding all that absolute power doesn’t lead to absolute mismanagement in the Morena-controlled Congress.