Off (the Playing) Field

In reflecting on British politics, Bertrand Russell said that generations of voters follow a predictable pattern that inexorably leads to frustration. They first vote for the party of their dreams, only to find that they do not find the solutions that they seek there. Therefore, they vote for the alternative, in the belief that this ‘other party’ is that which could bestow fortune upon them. Thus, a vicious circle of disillusion sets in. For Russell, the problem resided in the need for each party to impose its preferences instead of convening the majority of the population for a national project that transcends partisanship*. Mexican parties would have a hard time passing the test proposed by Russell.


There are two groups of Mexican voters: those who swear by one party and are only willing in the exceptional case to take leave of their trenches, and those who decide their vote according to the occasion, with a project oriented more toward constructing a future than to awaiting immediate answers. For the party in office, the theme is key: the PAN has been in the presidency for nearly 10 years, but the impact it has exerted on changing the reality for the good has been rather modest.


The 2000 election changed the reality of power, but did not lead to a novel institutionality. We are at present living a moment in which the struggle between parties and candidates is, nearly in its entirety, concerned with the past. The irony is that all appear to have their sights set on the same era, although for different reasons. The PAN appears resolute in recreating the Priista Presidency of the seventies. The PRD is split between ex-priistas who want to return to the economic policies of that era, and those born into the parties of the left and who now attempt to erect a modern social democracy. The PRI solely aspires to return to power and forget its two defeats. No one poses the idea of edifying a different future, one that is capable of checking out the desires and needs of a young and critical population that is in want of instruments, beyond that of the vote, in order for them to be something more than mere onlookers.


While the case of the PRD is the most complex due to the dissimilar genesis of the forces and traditions that consolidate it, the PAN party is perhaps the most paradoxical. The cabinet changes that took place at the end of 2009 were excessively revealing of the profound nature of the PAN. Instituted as a reaction to the Revolutionary Party, panistas have remained in the cryo-image of the all-powerful party of yesteryear.


From the time Fox became President, the panistas supposed that due to the sole fact of their having defeated the PRI, all of the power of the old presidency would flow toward them. Instead of recognizing the new political reality, the upshot of the panista victory, they soon began to criticize the President for not having thrown off the yoke of Hacienda, the Ministry of Public Finance. The obstacle had hitherto been the PRI; now it was Hacienda. In view of the cabinet changes, with Hacienda in the bag, the panistas could indeed be sure that the power was now theirs. They soon would be required to confront an evident dilemma: attempt to reproduce the PRI of the 1970s (spending left and right to carry the elections) or safeguard the economic stability. The dilemma is real, as priistas learned after 1994, but this will not impede their trying. Sooner or later, they will find a new scapegoat who justifies their inability to initiate the transformation that they have been promising for decades.


It would perhaps not be difficult to anticipate that this grandstanding will be directed toward the Bank of Mexico, the ever-appropriate bad guy. Legislative debate has set out to modify the central bank’s statute for incorporating into the entity’s mandate, not only the fight against inflation, but also economic growth. The supposition behind this idea is that higher inflation is a necessary condition for achieving a high growth rate, and that the mandate of the bank thwarts this. Any serious analyst knows that there is no contradiction between these two submissions and that, in fact, price stability is the sine qua non for sustainable economic growth. Notwithstanding this, the irony is that the opposition parties, as much as many of the legislators of the governmental party, embrace the same party line.


The growth problem is concerned with a lack of certainty in the economy and with an economic structure that does not contribute to opening opportunities for saving or investment.  But the panistas appear to be in the throes of another logic: rather than construct a development strategy, they are caught up in reproducing the old PRI. If they wish to return to power at some juncture, the PAN will have to offer something better than not being the PRI.


The worst predicament for the PAN is that their governments have been plagued by all of the vices for which they previously criticized the PRI. From the frivolity of Fox to the absence of continuity between the two six-year programs, the panistas have shown themselves to be a party of six-year terms. Similar to priistas, panistas have been deficient in a development program, long-term vision, or governmental strategy. In some cases, they have provided a pathetic sample of their vices, such as the recent decision of Demetrio Sodi’s delegational government to forsake roadway construction projects that were already in progress and for which the PAN had paid a high political price. Incapable of defending their programs, the panistas have not been different from other governments, except perhaps that they are less skillful in perpetuating themselves in power.


It is evident that the PAN administrations have launched some exceptional programs, even better than those that the PRI was ever able to bring about; among these, for example, the Oportunidades effort was converted into a politically neutral instrument to avoid rendering the fight against poverty a partisan one. It is impossible to ignore that the 2000 defeat of the PRI released Mexicans from the vise of priista authoritarianism. In the last analysis, however, and farther than these benefits, which are in no way irrelevant, the promise of the PAN has remained just that: a promise.


The great theme is what this tells us of the present reality and that of the future of Mexico. The two PAN administrations show that the problem of the country’s functioning is not linked with the party in office, but instead, with the development program in place and the capacity of the government in turn to carry this out. As citizens, top priority resides in how to right the wrongs before the potential return of the old PRI, with more ability—but no less a scarcity of ideas and convictions- to build something better.


*The Need for Political Skepticism, in Sceptical Essays