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'Triumph' in Mexico

July 09, 1986

That Mexico's powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won Sunday's election in the state of Chihuahua is not surprising. But the victory is disappointing for those who would like to see Mexico's democracy evolve into something more sophisticated than it is today.

The PRI has not lost a major election since it was founded in the 1920s amid the chaos of post-revolutionary Mexico. Since then the party has given Mexico a stable political system unique in Latin America. But Mexico is changing. The rural nation of 10 million people that emerged from the revolution of 1910 has almost 80 million citizens today, most of them living in cities and better educated than their parents.

As a result, opposition parties are beginning to wear down the PRI's hold on the Mexican system. This is especially so in northern Mexico, where the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) is well organized. The Chihuahua election was of interest because PAN controlled several cities there and nominated the popular mayor of Ciudad Juarez as its gubernatorial candidate.

The PRI responded by pouring money and manpower into the state for its candidate, and by election day independent public-opinion polls indicated that he would win a narrow victory. This apparently was not good enough for PRI officials, who announced an overwhelming triumph just hours after the polls closed; they proceeded to back those claims with election returns that were most likely fraudulent. Similarly dubious election tactics were used by the PRI last year in neighboring Sonora, where another popular PAN candidate was defeated at least partly by fraud.

The PRI's anxiety over losing in northern Mexico is explained by Mexican history. The bloody Mexican revolution began in Chihuahua, and to this day Mexico City is leery of nortenos and their independent ways--especially their close ties to the United States.

But this must change. Mexico is an increasingly sophisticated nation that has grown restive with the political system that worked so well for past generations. The raging inflation and unemployment of recent years have hurt Mexico's middle class as much as its many poor people. Now even the most patriotic Mexicans are having their faith in the system sorely tested by the nation's troubles. Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid and other PRI leaders must provide a political outlet for this growing frustration, or things will only get worse.

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