Cry Over Flagging Power of Mexico's Ruling PRI
Opposition moves this week to make ruling party give up monopoly on red, white, and green.
MEXICO CITY — How would the Democrats like it if the Republicans had a monopoly on the colors of Old Glory, the red, white and blue?
Change the blue for green, and you have the national colors of Mexico - which also symbolize the country's longtime "state party," the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
The strengthening opposition parties don't like the monopoly much. So now that they constitute a majority in the lower house of Congress, they are out to take the red, white, and green away from the PRI and make them the colors of all Mexicans, whatever their political stripe.
Four opposition parties will submit this week to a congressional committee a reform of the electoral code that would prohibit any person or party from using the "colors of the flag" for political profit.
The reform, which would take effect in time for the 2000 elections, has good chances of succeeding in the lower house. But final approval will still be difficult, since the PRI has a majority in the Senate.
The battle over colors may seem a tempest in a teapot. But analysts say it represents an important step in Mexico's political reform away from a one-party state.
"This is a symbolic move that, if you'll excuse the pun, would finally give color to the democratization process Mexico has been experiencing," says Joel Estudillo, a political analyst at the Mexican Institute for Political Studies here.
Red, white, and green are the colors of Mexico's revolution, so a monopoly on those colors by the PRI for more than six decades has in effect "said to Mexicans that if you aren't PRI you are antirevolutionary, antination," says Mr. Estudillo.
Today, aside from ruling in the lower house of Congress, Mexico's opposition governs more than 54 percent of the country's population at the municipal level - and 17 of the country's 31 state capital cities. The opposition has five state governors and holds the mayor's office of Mexico City, which was won by opposition leader Cuauhtmoc Crdenas last July.
The PRI still dominates Mexico's hundreds of rural towns, and it is in fact at that level that ending the PRI's monopoly on the "tricolors" could have the deepest effect. Populations targeted for traditionally paternalistic rural poverty programs are accustomed to seeing those programs promoted with the same colors adorning PRI campaign posters at election time.
According to the National Action Party, PAN, (colors: blue and white) and the Revolutionary Democratic Party, PRD, (colors: yellow and black), Mexico's two principal opposition parties, divorcing the PRI from the national colors would finally end the association many less-sophisticated voters still make between the PRI and government largess.
But in an official response, the PRI called the proposal "political hostility" and "lacking the civility necessary necessary to perfecting democracy." And if the opposition persists, the party added, it would move to deny the PAN the use of blue - associated by some with the Catholic church - and the PRD the use of yellow, which it said symbolized the Aztec god of the sun.
Still, the PRI's lock on a majority in the Senate is good enough reason for many "PRIistas" to assume their colors won't change any time soon. But Estudillo says this is actually an opportune moment for the opposition to submit its electoral reform: With several important legislative proposals the PRI (and Mexico's President Ernesto Zedillo) want passed coming up before Congress, the opposition could negotiate its support for government legislation in exchange for approval of the separation of party and state colors.
Then the opposition argues, all Mexicans could wholeheartedly sing, "Three cheers for the red, white, and green!"