The Return of Mexico’s Nemesis

MEXICO CITY – On July 1, Mexico will in all likelihood vote the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled the country for seven decades, back into power. The PRI’s candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, holds an insurmountable lead late in the campaign. Many Mexicans, as well as the country’s foreign friends, fear that this turn of events heralds a return to the authoritarian, corrupt, and discredited past that Mexico had left behind when the National Action Party’s candidate, Vicente Fox, won the presidency in 2000.

As someone who contributed to the PRI’s defeat, I would prefer a different victor this year: an independent candidate, a center-left social democrat, or a center-right leader running on the best parts of Fox’s and outgoing President Felipe Calderón’s record (while repudiating Calderón’s bloody and futile war of choice against Mexico’s drug lords). But I reject the notion that a PRI victory would automatically restore the status quo ante, as if Mexico, its links to the world, and the PRI itself had stood still throughout the last 12 years.

Mexico has changed immensely since 1994, the last time a PRI president was elected. If Peña Nieto wins, he will have to deal with a strong opposition bloc in Congress, and in all likelihood with minority status for the PRI, at least in the lower house. Moreover, more than ten of Mexico’s 32 state governors will belong to the opposition, while the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution will continue to control the country’s second-most important elected position and budget: the mayor’s office in Mexico City, which the PRD has held since 1997.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s media are freer, better, and stronger than ever, even if on occasion the quality of their output leaves much to be desired. The country’s civil society has become more organized, more powerful, and more vibrant. The government can no longer do what it wants, for better or for worse.