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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mexico Election Heralds New Chance for Democracy

MEXICO CITY -- Almost unnoticed in the final blitz of rallies, opinion polls and punditry surrounding Mexico's most hotly contested presidential elections in six decades was this prediction by author Carlos Fuentes:


"Mexico will have a bad president, with a good government ... He will be a little crippled, because of the way in which he will be elected, a bit one-armed, because of the composition of the Congress (that will be elected the same day), and therefore he will only be able to govern by negotiation."


That, in fact, is among the few shared truths in what promises to be Mexico's least predictable but most democratic national elections this century.


Sunday's electoral showdown is an experiment in pluralism, pegged at a cost of $2 billion by outgoing President Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Politicians and analysts agree it will chart a more democratic course for this nation of 92 million, through endemic poverty, elitist wealth, massive unemployment and potential social unrest.


Unprecedented in the uncertainty of its outcome after 65 consecutive years of rule by a single, monolithic political force, the heated and costly campaign for the presidency, Congress and two state governorships has already built several key pillars for fundamental democractic change.


Eight independent political parties are competing for power with the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI-ruled government has spent $730 million on a state-of-art, computerized voter-registration and identification system that has been embraced by all but one of the parties. The government will also permit international observers and a United Nations team of experts to monitor the vote independently for the first time. And each of the three leading presidential candidates has shared commitments to a major overhaul of Mexico's often corrupt and authoritarian political system.


The most prominent of those promised reforms are the candidates' vows of power-sharing in the omnipotent executive branch.


The ruling party's candidate, Ernesto Zedillo, 42, who has posted a commanding lead in opinion polls commissioned largely by international banks and other institutions that prefer the PRI, has vowed to consider members of the opposition for his cabinet if he wins. His leading challenger, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, 53, of the center-right National Action Party, or PAN, has made a similar public pledge. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who many believe was cheated out of the presidency through fraud in the 1988 elections, has made no such public vow, but supporters of his center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, said they expect some level of power-sharing if Cardenas surges from his third-place position in the polls to win.


But there are several potentially far-reaching reforms put in place by Salinas that will kick in after the elections. And, of those, the most dramatic are changes in the size and composition of the Congress. It is these changes that Fuentes and other respected Mexican analysts have concluded -- barring civil war or massive Election Day fraud -- will inevitably propel Mexico into a new era of lively, although potentially turbulent, democracy.


In short, those analysts say, no matter which of the three leading presidential contenders is elected to lead the nation into the 21st century this Sunday, this experiment in pluralist democracy is almost certain to transform the internal balance of power here.


It will do so, they say, by shattering the traditional role of Mexico's Chamber of Deputies and its Senate, both historically rubber-stamp bastions of a president handpicked by the ruling PRI.


Overnight, the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies, which will be elected under a new proportional representation system, will become a far more autonomous political force, according to independent and ruling party analysts.


The Senate will double in size to 128 seats, many of which will go to the opposition. And both houses are expected to become far more free-wheeling marketplaces of power, in which the PRI will be unable to alter the nation's constitution as it has done with abandon in the past.


Under the new rules of the game, the opposition and ruling party alike agree that Mexico's political landscape is bound to resemble more the U.S.-style balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.