For several years now, every election in Mexico has been followed by a heated flap. Last week, the ongoing controversy over political reform got even more complicated: The center of contention is an election that didn't even take place.
The problem began when some members of Mexico's powerful ruling party, the PRI, tried to pull a fast one in the southern state of Yucatan. The local PRI-controlled legislature and governor tried to postpone an election scheduled for November, fearing that a contested election could adversely affect their party just prior to the selection of its presidential candidate. Mexico's presidential election will be held next year.
Yucatan's PRI Establishment wound up having to back down in the face of a local public outcry and widespread negative publicity.
Given the fact that Mexico's political system is constitutionally based on a strong presidency, every deed and misdeed of governance is invariably attributed to the head of state. Thus President Carlos Salinas de Gortari is being criticized in some circles for the foiled attempt to postpone Yucatan's election. However, the blame appears to actually lie with old-line PRI members--the so-called "dinosaurs"--who have been resisting the young president's attempt at political and economic reform. There are still groups within the PRI Establishment that do not understand that in this era of instant global communication you just can't get away with undemocratic maneuvers like this one. And while such attempts at subverting democracy certainly embarrass Salinas, they do not mean that his nation's political reform is lagging behind its economic progress.
The political change in Mexico is undeniable: There are now three governors from an opposition party; a very large number of the country's state capitals have opposition mayors; almost half of Congress is in the hands of the opposition. The popular reaction to situations like the Yucatan fiasco indicates that things are changing south of the border. Now, even in the provinces, when Mexicans protest they expect things to change. And in many ways that change in expectations is as important in establishing genuine democracy as holding elections.