Movers and shakers of Mexico's long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party are looking for scapegoats in Sunday's presidential election loss, and many are insisting that the defeat lies with President Ernesto Zedillo. In truth, they need look no further than the arrogance with which the party ruled for 71 years.
In his six-year term the incumbent let some light fall onto the nation's political machinations. The more democratic Mexico that Zedillo delivered at great personal and political cost represents a historic turning point. Now the party that has controlled modern Mexico is giving up the reins, peacefully, so far. On Dec. 1, President-elect Vicente Fox of the opposition National Action Party, PAN, will reside in Los Pinos, the presidential palace. Said Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a popular political analyst, "This is an earthquake."
Zedillo is being pilloried by his fellow PRI members mainly because of two actions he took during his presidency. He promoted the political reforms that led to creation of the independent Federal Electoral Institute. It set the rules and counted the votes Sunday, a task formerly done within Los Pinos by PRI apparatchiks. He also pushed for democratic reforms leading up to the campaign.
Party leaders accuse Zedillo of conceding too soon as the votes came in Sunday evening, thereby violating the PRI axiom that in order to manipulate the vote you must delay accepting defeat. Zedillo took his loss like a modern democrat. History will honor him.
For the PRI the future is bleak and could include a breakup of the historical party into regional forces. When the party's president, Dulce Maria Sauri, offered her resignation in defeat, party members had little to do but scramble for the few bits of power and money still available. The party's old guard must understand that the PRI's golden age is over and hand the leadership to younger, more modern members.
The challenge for Fox also is clear. Voters wanted change; now he must deliver. The economy is always issue No. 1 in Mexico, but PAN will look at the range of prospects with a different vision than the PRI regimes.
No challenge will be more important than national reconciliation. Mexico's voters have given Fox a unique victory. In return he must deliver a revolution in governance.