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PERSPECTIVE ON MEXICO : Whoever Wins Must Share Power : Enough dissenting votes will be cast Sunday to deprive any winner of a mandate. A democratic reconciliation is critical.

<i> Jorge G. Castaneda is a political scientist and longtime critic of the PRI and the Salinas government. He hosted the first meetings of Grupo San Angel. </i>

Grupo San Angel, the 70 or so reformers from across Mexico’s political spectrum, felt from the outset that the country’s real problems would start to emerge only after next Sunday’s election, and only then could the country’s democratic transition begin. So far, the group’s main achievement since its inception in early June lies perhaps in its contribution to laying out a post-electoral agenda that attempts to go beyond the mistrust that has become pervasive in the electorate.

The winner of the presidential election will probably receive around 40% of the vote in a three-way race with no run-off. At least one of the two losers will almost certainly question the fairness of the process; the armed groups in Chiapas and elsewhere in the country will do the same. Moreover, all of this will occur in a country lacking a democratic electoral tradition and deeply divided over just about every imaginable issue. Hence the question of governability: Who will govern the nation under these circumstances, and how will it be governed?

The answer, according to the group, lies in the the winner of the election making a commitment to assemble a government of national concord, whose composition and platform would truly reflect the exceptional conditions Mexico finds itself in today. That government’s program should stress two basic goals: profound, substantive political reform, and the type of social reform that a country with Mexico’s gaping inequalities is clamoring for.

In a sense, what the group is saying is that whoever wins the election, the actual political outcome should be pretty much the same. As Carlos Fuentes, a founding member of the group, put it, Mexico might end up with a lousy president but a good government doing the right thing.

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On all of these points, Grupo San Angel agrees. On a more specific blueprint for the future, and what actually will happen on Sunday, it is appropriate to comment on some of the ideas that are shared by many members of the group but are not yet part of the consensus it has built.

Many in the group believe that Mexico’s next government should rest on a power-sharing agreement that includes the three main political parties, the business sector, the intellectual community, the non-governmental organizations and the grass-roots social movement that has sprung up in recent years.

In addition to this move toward democratization, the government should implement a program that sets forth those economic and social policies that must remain more or less the same, albeit with significant adjustments, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, trade liberalization, privatization and foreign investment, and those that must change: Raise taxes on the wealthy, improve income distribution, increase social spending and expenditures on infrastructure, and make it possible for workers to fight equitably for higher wages. This scheme should last only for a limited period, perhaps a couple of years, after which Mexican democracy would begin to take root and truly significant, competitive, free and fair elections could be held.

Therein lies the essential problem facing Mexico today, in the opinion of many, though not all of Grupo San Angel’s members. Matters were left unattended for too long in Mexico; today, the country is too polarized, too mistrustful and too bereft of any democratic tradition to solve all of its problems with this one election.

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There is a rapidly growing risk that, whatever the purported cleanliness of the vote, a huge number of Mexicans, undoubtedly a majority, will not only vote against the ruling PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party); they also will not accept its permanence in power, no matter how cleanly PRI candidate Ernesto Zedillo may have won (if he does). This is true, of course, of the armed groups and the supporters of opposition candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, but it also holds for the conservative National Action Party electorate. For these millions of disaffected yet highly politicized and even militant Mexicans, after the PRIstas’ 65 years in power, it is time for them to go.

It has never been clear to Mexicans that the best way, let alone the only way, to change governments or political systems is through the ballot box. Mostly, things here have changed through other means. If Sunday’s election delivers a victor, and a margin of victory, that only frustrates and deeply disappoints millions, some of them will follow another road: the one the Zapatistas chose last Jan. 1. The sense of frustration and despair that could quickly engulf this Mexico if the PRI wins, cleanly or not, could be devastating for the country.

That is what Grupo San Angel is deeply concerned about: helping our country to find a way out from an extremely complicated situation.


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