Celebrating Mexico's Choice

Ending decades of PRI rule creates a full democracy

What a way to end the 20th century. The world's longest-ruling party (71 years) was toppled by a popular vote on July 2.

It was democracy's final defense in a century that saw as many bullets as ballots in the defense of democracy. It was the electoral equivalent of the fall of the Berlin Wall. (And it came just three months after voters in Taiwan ended the 51-year reign of the Nationalist Party.)

The Second of July could be Mexico's new independence day. A country filled with new confidence showed it wanted to be independent of the past corruption and lethargy of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that has held back Mexico until only a few years ago. (See our lead story on page 1.)

Recommended: Mexico's high-stakes presidential vote: 4 questions answered

The courage to oust the PRI and deal with the uncertainty of a transfer of power reflects Mexico's progress - and, ironically, progress within the PRI and the political reforms of President Ernesto Zedillo.

For decades, Latin America's second-largest country put up with the appearance of democracy, as many countries still do. The PRI had a heavy thumb on patronage, pork barrel, and the ballot box. Now a party once dominated by competing cliques must act as the political opposition (it even lost control of the Senate in the election).

Mexico has finally joined the trend to full democracy that hit Latin America in the 1980s, led by urban youth and NAFTA-enriched entrepreneurs from the border who sought reforms.

The incoming president, Vicente Fox, and his center-right National Action Party (PAN), tapped into that political sentiment with bold ideas and lively campaigns.

The former Coca-Cola executive promises to use the new democratic competition to reduce corruption. Among his reform ideas, he rightly focuses on Mexico's most-urgent needs: a "revolution" in education and incorruptible judges.

Politics will be cleaner but not easier. For the first time no major party will control Congress. PAN cannot rule alone like the PRI once did. Mexicans must learn the art of compromise.

And in the months before the Dec. 1 handover, Mr. Fox and President Zedillo will need to work closely together. Both must resist pressure to take advantage of the transition.

This political upset eliminates the historic certainty of the relationship between the United States and its second-largest trading partner. Fox, for instance, proposes an "open border" with free movement of people as in the European Union. That goal, however, must wait until he achieves another goal: sustainable 7 percent economic growth - especially growth that reaches Mexico's poor.

With the PRI's ouster, Mexico will likely help the Western Hemisphere become a better place to live.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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