Mexico's Evolving Politics

Proclamations that Mexico's dominant political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), is democratizing itself have quieted down a bit.

Yes, the party recently agreed on a national nominating primary to choose its presidential candidate in next year's election. For decades, the man in the top job simply tapped his own successor. But if the primary turns out to be virtually a one-man contest - the one man being the candidate who is known to be the president's favorite - what's the difference?

Critics of the PRI see that happening already. President Ernesto Zedillo is thought to prefer his interior minister, Francisco Labastida Ochoa. As soon as the primary plan was announced and Mr. Labastida declared his intention to run, party regulars loudly rallied to him. He may still have competitors when the primary campaign opens Aug. 1, but he is the clear front-runner - largely because the president's endorsement still has almost mystical force within the PRI.

Those kinds of traditions will take time to ebb. The PRI has had an unbroken hold on the Mexican presidency for 70 years. But, to play on the party's name, institutional changes can revolutionize politics. The primary opens what had been a very closed nominating process, and ambitious politicians, with a knack for grass-roots campaigning, will find ways to take advantage of it.

President Zedillo is to be commended for pushing his party toward this change. Mexican politics is rapidly evolving. Major opposition parties on the left and right are on the move. There's even talk of their uniting to confront the PRI's presidential nominee with a single, more viable challenger. The creaking hulk of the PRI had to move a little itself, or get out of the way.

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