Pathetic and Grave

The president refuses the possibility of turning over the government to the PRI. The probable new PAN president, Gustavo Madero, speaks of “finishing off” the PRI. The alliances that led the PRI to defeat in three emblematic states and that are being negotiated for a few others were predicated based on the need for removing the PRI from some regional fiefdoms. I ask myself whether the government knows what it’s doing.


In democracy, the means are as important as the end; thus, the objective of preventing the PRI from winning, or attempting to undermine it, is unacceptable within a democratic context. With this I do not claim to argue that the PRI is a modern party, that Mexican democracy has been consolidated, or that despotic strongholds and other obstacles to our democracy do not persist. But the notion that a party is illegitimate, therefore without the right to be elected, is wholly unacceptable. The PRIists, at least many of them, may be pre modern, abusive, or corrupt, but it is evident that they do not enjoy a monopoly in any of these terrains.


It is Mexico that has failed to construct an integral democracy, and the governments born in the post-PRIist era are much more responsible for the lack of political transformation than the PRIists themselves, who, with all of their defects, accepted the decision of the voters at the ballot box. Many PRIists continue to regret “having permitted” the PAN to govern and it is obvious that not all PANists are equally primitive, but the panorama unfortunately does not lend itself to nuances.


Our democracy suffers from the manifestations of a failed transition, but also, from two incompetent governments, incapable of rising to the situation. Fox never understood the dimensions of the change that he had caused, and Felipe Calderón appears to be incapable of recognizing the gravity of the present moment. The former let the great opportunity of the transformation for which country clamored go by, and the latter persists in digging the grave for this transformation. It is not that the problems are small, but rather, that governing cannot be conducted from an attitude of pettiness. At present, we require the coming together of all Mexicans in order to be able to defeat the most dangerous common enemy that the country has confronted since, at least, the Revolution. This unity and identity of purpose is impossible if equality of rights is denied for all citizens, independently of their religion, ideology, or of the political party to which they belong.


Duverger, the great scholar of political parties, employed the term “loyal opposition” to characterize parties that oppose the governing party but without placing its legitimacy in jeopardy: parties that are adversaries but not enemies; parties that do not dispute the manner in which the government arrived at power, although they compete with that party to replace it in the government. The paradox of the present moment is that the party that challenged the legitimacy of the government in 2006 is now its fraternal ally, while the party that conferred legitimacy upon the PAN and that made it possible for it to assume the presidency has become the pernicious fiend of yesteryear.


I suppose that explaining these paradoxes would require penetrating the psychology of those who currently hold power and analyze the way in which they watched the PRI throughout the years, during which the PAN lived from the scraps that an authoritarian system tossed their way, in which the opposition had to ask for permission even to breathe. Nonetheless, however terrible those experiences might have been, and I do not wish to minimize them, I am sure that they were nothing compared with those of Nelson Mandela, who, after 27 years in prison, knew that the only thing that would work was reconciliation with the very members of the system that had incarcerated him. Greatness is not measured by the size of the rhetoric, but instead, but its keen-sightedness.


The paradoxes do not end with the phobias and alliances. President Calderón correctly identified the threat represented by narcotrafficking, and despite the abysmal communication that has characterized his government, has attempted to convince the population of the risk. At the same time, however, he is bent on dividing the country with respect to the upcoming presidential succession: this is a government incapable of understanding that the decisions that it makes are not independent among themselves. It cannot be expected that an alliance against the PRI (something that is legitimate in democratic politics) would be free of repercussions. Likewise, national solidarity cannot be claimed when legitimacy is denied to one of the political parties; and, worse, under these circumstances, where the PRI is crucial for the governability of the nation. The inconsistency kills trust and diminishes the PAN itself.


I have no doubt but that Mexican democracy will prosper more swiftly thanks to the defeats that the two local PRI party bosses (and appallingly poor governors) in Oaxaca and Puebla. The political structures of these two states will undergo fundamental alterations –similar to the immediate breath of freedom of which we Mexicans began to get a whiff with the defeat of the PRI in 2000- and that will translate into a reduced ability of the control exercised by former governments. If President Calderón’s objective with the alliances was “to liberate” these two states from the yoke of the PRI, he must be satisfied: the PRI indubitably lost two bastions and “stockpiles” of votes. But this does not give the President any reason to expect legislative cooperation on the part of the PRI (more to the point, exactly the opposite is foreseeable), nor even less so to suppose that the party will sit on its hands precisely concerning the themes that are more critical (such as the budget) for his government. Decisions have consequences and now is the time to experience the latter.


What is intolerable is the decision to strive for the PRI’s not returning to power, except through the exercise of good government. The quality of a democracy demands that citizens can expect from parties and governments behavior that is congruent with the rules of democracy, and these do not contemplate denial of an adversary. The enemy to beat is the narco, and the government should be fully devoted to two things: earning the backing the population behind this struggle, and creating a favorable environment for a crisp political transition, whoever wins.


The president should lead and not wait for others to act. Napoleon once said “to get power you need to display absolute pettiness. To exercise power, you need to show true greatness”. President Calderón proved the former during his campaign for the presidency. Now it’s time to demonstrate the latter.