MEI notes:

Draft text of MEI 99-380. Alternative model of Mexican politics

George Baker

Business Week
's November 17 story on the Labastida election victory, "Why Mexicans won't toss out the ruling party," deserves several readings. With 70 years of continuous PRI rule in evidence, a theory of Mexican politics that goes beyond headlines is needed. What might be called a "Split-level theory of the PRI" would go like this:

"PRI" refers to two very distinct orders of fact: one corresponds to the levels of local, state and congressional politics, the other to presidential politics. At the first, lower level PRI refers to candidates and political organizations that can, and often do, lose elections to opposition parties. At the second, higher level, however, PRI refers to the Mexican form of government, not to a political party. In this view, it is an oxymoron to imagine that the PRI would or could lose a national presidential election.For Mexicans, voting against the PRI would be equivalent to voting againstthe Mexican flag (the three colors of which are the same as those of the PRI, which is nicknamed the "tricolor" in the Mexican press). It would be theequivalent to voting against the Mexican form of government.

What, then, is the Mexican form of government? Business Week cites a Mexican political scientist who says it is a "buddy system." The image ofa buddy system would seem to fit both the behavior of a paternalistic stateas well as that of the Mexican analog of what President Eisenhower called the "military-industrial complex." In Mexico, the analog is a group of buddies that make up the "100 families" of Mexico, the "consentidos del sistema,"the privileged classes. For Mexico's poor an functionally illiterate, who make up over 50% of the population, what matters is corn tortillas on the table--tortillas that often come, directly or indirectly, through PRI channels.Every six years Mexico's underclasses are asked to acknowledge the benefits they have received from "the System" by voting for the PRI. In this view,voters are looking backwards, not forwards. They are acknowledging, not choosing.

As for Mexicans that would vote for a non-PRI candidate for president--as amajority did in 1988--, there seems to be an element of self-deception at work: the System rejects unfavorable voting results and installs the PRI candidate as if the results had been a landslide in the candidate's favor. In this view, to vote against the PRI for president is equivalent to losing one's vote, or at best, is to believe that the System cares that you registered a "protest vote."

How does this analysis relate to the energy sector? It means that non-PRI candidates might win the elections, but they won't come to take charge of government. It means that the people who will be in charge of the energy sector are today affiliated with the PRI. On this last point, some Clintonian parsing is in order: The energy sector officials in government will not haveindustry backgrounds that would qualify them for their jobs, which will normally depend on family and know-who connections. To judge by their titles and carriage, these officials run the energy sector. Offstage, however, careerists in Pemex and CFE fully appreciate the invisible fact that they are the ones of decide what programs and policies will be implemented.