Mexico's Slow Emergence

ONE thing to keep in mind when viewing Mexico's problems is that nearly all of them fit into the process of shaking loose from 60 years of often smothering one-party rule.

Mexico went through another set of state elections in May, and 10 more legislative and gubernatorial contests are scheduled before the end of the year. The most recent results point in somewhat contradictory directions. In Guanajuato, the National Action Party (PAN) won a ringing victory in what was arguably the cleanest vote in recent Mexican history. Electoral shenanigans, habitual with the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), were kept at bay.

That apparently wasn't the case in Yucatan, where the PAN is challenging a PRI gubernatorial win that it claims was tainted by vote-buying and ballot-stuffing. Assaults on the PRI also include a renewed challenge to last November's election in Tabasco state, where a defeated opposition candidate has exposed PRI spending records that indicate local party bosses were willing to pay off just about everyone in sight.

But viewed over the past decade or so, Mexican politics is marked by a weakening of both the PRI's clamp on power and its isolationist economic policies. It's also marked by the tendency of wronged parties and their supporters to engage in vocal, yet largely peaceful protest. Criticism is openly voiced in Mexico, and many Mexicans have shifted their loyalties to the center-right PAN, which at present is the only party with grass-roots organizing skills and a nose for public opinion.

Slowly, genuine democracy is sending down roots in Mexico. Poor economic management, deep social inequities, and drug-related corruption tend to give it stony soil. But the growth of democracy should open the way for more nourishing ideas and leadership, as well as for the return of investor confidence.

Last December's disastrous currency devaluation followed earlier such debacles in 1982 and '85. Sound economic planning, like clean electoral politics, has yet to take firm hold. But today's Mexico is a place where lessons can be learned and mistakes, finally, not repeated.

It's also a place under intense scrutiny, not only from the US, which has huge stake in its progress, but from dozens of other countries trying to shuck a similar weight of history.

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