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PRI Dilemma: If It Wins It Can't be Clean

June 18, 1989|AGUSTIN BASAVE BENITEZ | Agustin Basave Benitez teaches in the School of Political and Social Sciences at Mexico's National Autonomous University and is a member of the PRI National Executive Committee

MEXICO CITY — The worst thing that can happen to the truth is for it to become commonplace. Just as the incessant reiteration of a lie makes it believable, repetition of a true argument often lessens its credibility.

This is what frequently occurs in the political debates in Mexico. Opposition parties and critics of the Mexican political system, for instance, are now repeating ad nauseam the idea that here can be no clean elections unless the PRI loses. In reply to this, we members of the PRI (the Institutional Revolutionary Party) have affirmed time and again that our party has won many times in unquestionably fair elections, and that although our opponents have become stronger, we still have the necessary strength to win fair and square. We have also stated that for a party to remain in power with the consent of the majority is as democratic as to alternate in power. But our insistence weakens the force of our arguments.

Undoubtedly, there is a crisis of credibility in Mexican politics; however, the repetition of valid but threadbare arguments has helped fallacy to become firmly established. Although the commitment to democratization of the PRI's current leadership is recognized within as well as outside the party, it would seem that the PRI has to lose for elections to be considered clean. Thus, democracy in Mexico no longer means government by the majority but rather government by anyone but the PRI. The truth about who won the most votes is irrelevant; the opposition has assumed a monopoly on truly democratic representation.

In good or bad faith, this mistake has been made by many. With gubernatorial elections in the state of Baja California imminent, all sorts of voices are raised to assert that the PRI can only win by losing. They claim that only in defeat can the PRI gain legitimacy, and that if it wins, its victory will not be valid. No matter how hard we PRI members strive to modernize our party, to ensure that our candidates are democratically elected and to conduct intensive and well-planned campaigns, our victory is disqualified from the start.

The irony of the matter is obvious. Even though it may be capable of defeating its opponents by rooting out the vices of the old political culture (which in fact riddle all the political parties in Mexico), the PRI is doomed to committing a sort of reverse electoral fraud. No doubt the reasoning will be that this is a fitting punishment for remaining in power for so many years.

I honestly cannot find such reasoning valid. Of course, genuine defeats should be acknowledged, but the results of an election should not be predetermined. Making public opinion biased in advance against what could well be a party's victory does not constitute a step forward for democracy. Nor does refusing to recognize legitimate victories.

It is for the benefit of all Mexicans, and not just party members, that the PRI become more democratic. Those of us in the PRI who are convinced that a thorough transformation of the ruling party is an essential condition for change in Mexico feel that it is most unfair for our efforts to be disqualified by decree.

The PRI's transformation is as unquestionable as the charge that it was born static is false. The great virtue of the party has been precisely its capacity for self-regeneration and for adapting to historical circumstances. The different names that it has borne have marked milestones in its history: as the National Revolutionary Party it began to dismantle the cacique (party boss) system, brought together the sharply fragmented revolutionary factions and made political stability possible. As the Party of the Mexican Revolution it consolidated both its alliance with the peasants and workers and the power of the president against foreign intervention. As the Institutional Revolutionary Party it institutionalized the passage from a military regime to a civilian society and provided political support for the country's industrialization. Now, in what has been called its "fourth stage," the party is turning toward democracy.

Those who are familiar with the inner workings of the PRI know that this change of direction is in earnest. The signs cannot be clearer--the new discourse, the forums for internal debate at the recent Special National Council, the primary elections in various states. As always, there are some who are opposed to change. But if the tide of renewal has prevailed in the past, now there is even more reason for it to succeed, because unlike other occasions, today's transformation also reflects the overwhelming will of an active civilian society.

We are sure that by making our party more democratic, we will increase our chances of winning. All that is needed is to convince public opinion of this--without resorting to commonplace arguments, of course.

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