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Muddle in Mexico

Despite muddled returns from closely watched elections held in two key Mexican states on Sunday, officials of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) insist they defeated stiff political challenges. But, as has happened in other close elections in Mexico, there is credible evidence that PRI’s success may at least partly be the result of fraud.

Voters in Baja California Norte and Michoacan went heavily against the PRI in last year’s presidential election. So some analysts had speculated that reformist President Carlos Salinas de Gortari might use state elections this year to live up to his avowed intention of creating a political apertura in Mexico by allowing opposition parties to win in both states. Such a step would have been as dramatic as Salinas’ crackdown on corruption and his efforts to open up the Mexican economy.

In Michoacan, leftists aligned with Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ Democratic Revolutionary Party were thought to have enough support to seize control of the legislature. In Baja California Norte, the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), had a popular candidate for governor. But, while some Cardenistas won in Michoacan, and PAN appeared to be ahead in mayoral elections in Baja California’s major cities, PRI officials claim to still control the state house in both. And while reported instances of fraud were not as egregious as in other recent elections, there are enough cases of phony voting cards and registration lists padded with the names of the dead to keep the drumbeat of criticism at PRI’s tactics going for years to come.

Some Mexican government and PRI officials insist the very fact that elections in their country are now hotly contested is proof that democracy is alive and well in Mexico. They are either naive or cynical. For most people, the evidence democracy really works in Mexico will be PRI’s losing a major election for the first time in its history.

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