MEXICO'S Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) may have won a smashing victory in the midterm elections, according to official tallies. But credible allegations of fraud are widespread, and some instances of irregularities were blatant. Some analysts understandably wonder whether the PRI, in power more than 60 years, was trying to tell other Mexican parties, and the nation's voters, that it will not ever willingly give up power, irrespective of the vote. If that was the intended message, then Mexican democracy is in serious need of repair.
It is up to the government to show willingness to tolerate the presence of other viable political parties. A desire for political change appears to be building in Mexico, in search of a government that can improve the nation's economy and clean up its longstanding corruption.
If that desire is not permitted expression in fair elections, then support could build for those who advocate a less-than-peaceful transfer of power, if necessary by revolution, as in parts of Central America today. It is obviously important that no such opportunity be provided to those who would take advantage of it.
If there are substantial political demonstrations by defeated Mexican political parties, as have occurred in the past, the government should respond with sufferance. In today's climate a harsh response could produce a cycle of violence and repression that would exacerbate Mexico's problems.
For more than 60 years Mexicans, and their neighbors north of the border, have been comforted by the stability of the Mexican government. But that political peace has been achieved in large part because only one Mexican political party, the PRI, has held national power: Other parties have been ineffectual and barely represented in the national legislature. It is a heavy price for a democracy to pay for stability.
Despite its name, the PRI, like any other party in power more than half a century, is no longer revolutionary. Distribution of wealth is particularly inequitable in Mexico, and the Mexican economy is not in good shape. It is the faintness of the prospects for a better material life in their native land that largely drives hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to enter the United States illegally each year, in search of jobs.
For the United States the challenges now in dealing with Mexico are several. The US properly does need to regain control of its borders, daily punctured by large numbers of illegal immigrants, from Mexico and elsewhere. Washington is wrestling with the problem of illegal immigration.
The US cannot afford to be seen as purely punitive by Mexico, long sensitive about US might and historic willingness to wield it.
The US should consider adjusting its policies so as to strengthen Mexico's economic development and its trade with the United States. Money spent improving the Mexican economy could produce a substantial reduction in the illegal border traffic by providing jobs for Mexicans at home.
At the same time Mexico ought to take effective steps to curb corruption so that this funding would not be siphoned off by the wealthy or powerful.
The US should consider reducing duties and quotas on several kinds of inexpensive consumer goods made in Mexico, which require a good deal of personal labor. They include toys, balloons, some textiles, and some agricultural products.
One thing Washington should not do is be closely tied to any Mexican political party: Part of the difficulty the challenging National Action Party (PAN) faced in the past elections was that, as the party of businessmen, it was viewed by many Mexicans as allied with the US, especially the Republican Party. That's not the kind of help Mexican democracy needs from the United States.