The Mexican system has survived for so long because it has usually been capable of negotiating with its opposition, even co-opting it and, if need be, corrupting it. From the factious army of the 1920s to the rebellious students of the 1970s, the system has proved extremely flexible at the game. It had enough to go around. Today it hasn't: The oil boom of the 1970s has been followed by the debt bust of the 1980s. The insufficiencies of the system have become apparent. But so have its successes. Mexicans, by and large, are simply demanding that political institutions now adapt to society, and not vice-versa.
The PRI's response to this challenge could be negative, but then the system would be digging its own grave; its successes have depended on its capacity to negotiate. Once it starts answering political challenges with armed repression, as it did in 1968, it precipitates a national crisis.
The next president of Mexico is sure to be the PRI's candidate. The opposition parties--the National Action Party (PAN) on the right, and the Mexican Socialist Party (PMS) on the left--while steadily gaining strength, have yet to pose a challenge to PRI at the national level. But their local gains must be respected; the PRI is at a stage where it will win by losing.
But whoever the next president of Mexico is, he cannot be the president only of the PRI; he must become the president of all Mexicans and listen to the two demands coming from the gut of Mexican society: greater democracy and renewed development with greater social justice.
If Mexico manages to blend its old, organic politics of unity (a necessary shield against an unpredictable U.S. political future) with the modern, multiparty demands of the civil society, it will have a better chance of entering the 21st Century on its own two feet. What Mexico will never be is a reproduction of the United States, and if the public or the government of the United States demands this of Mexico, that will only stall our own democratic development. Let France have its Camembert, the United States its hot dogs and Mexico its enchiladas.