The 9 Lives of the PRI

Luis Rubio

When in the presidential campaign someone told Enrique Peña Nieto that he could not could not believe in the PRI because of all that the latter had done and caused. The current President answered him that he understood but that his was a “new PRI,” one which young people viewed positively. In effect, PRI won the presidency in 2012 and has been able to preserve more than half of the governorships of the country; in fact, nothing is holding it back from winning next year. Is this logical?

Mexico is an anomaly compared with countries characterized by State parties, authoritarian in nearly of these cases. In Taiwan, the Kuomintang (KMT) has adapted and become a competitive party because it put aside its former vices, enters and leaves the presidency and, when it comprises the opposition, as it is today, it behaves like just another party. In Eastern Europe, the communist parties have disappeared or have been transformed.

The PRI goes on being, well, the PRI. It is true that it has adapted itself to the competitive world but the contrast with other nations is patent: in Mexico, the old system is as alive as ever; instead of the system changing and the PRI adapting to an open political regime, the other parties have adapted to the old system, evolving into the pillars that sustain it.

How can it be explained that there are competitive elections but that the PRI regime and its power monopoly continue to be there, in a few hands that do not change, as if they were musical chairs? There are many possible responses, in addition to those that might occur to you, dear reader:

  • Above all, the PRI never left: it is still there, dominating a good part of the national territory, counts with a formidable electoral machine that is incomparable and, although it has lost many state-governor posts, it has been able to achieve that all of the governors, as well as the opposition parties, behave like PRIists. That is, it could be said, nearly almost, that the other parties became mere franchises…
  • The electoral reform of 1996 was peculiar in one sense: it did not create a competitive party system. Although from that time Mexico developed an impeccable electoral-administration system, the parties compete among each other only to later fix things up and maintain themselves distant from the citizenry. We have an electoral system at the service of the political parties.
  • When the PAN arrived at the presidency, one would have hoped for a change of regime: the elimination of the old control mechanisms, privilege and abuse (therefore, corruption and impunity), but precisely the opposite happened: the PAN became like the PRI, building a new future was forgotten and the PAN emerged corrupt to the core, to the degree that today it does not even have the capacity to understand where, when and how it lost its way.
  • It has not gone better for the PRD. Heir of the PRI in its principal bastion, Mexico City, it has devoted itself to attending to its clienteles, corrupting them and, in recent months, seeking ways to survive its nemesis, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Instead of changing the system of government and improving the lives of the city’s inhabitants, its dedication has been to inventing constitutions, new names and generating a lot of noise, but not a better standard of living, better infrastructure or an ability to see to the citizenry. The fact that it is struggling for its survival says it all.
  • No less importantly, the present government has pushed all the limits to the max. It has employed the institutions to attack its enemies, protect and forgive its “partners-in-crime”. It has generated a climate of extreme impunity that not only alienates the citizens, but one that has dramatically risked the future.

At the end of the day, the old regime is preserved for two reasons: on the one hand, because the electorate has become fragmented to such an extent (in good measure intentionally) that everything is adjusted at the level of votes that the PRI can glean. However, as the recent one-act comedy concerning the installation of the governing body of the Congress and the Senate illustrated, all of the parties played the same game: preservation of the status quo.

But the other reason is much more reveling: while 70% of the electorate is against López Obrador, he not only holds sway over the panorama, but also constitutes the factor that illustrates the failure of those electoral reforms and the main parties involved. The overwhelming majority of voters do not like him, but he could win precisely because he represents, or has been able to position himself, as the only one capable of offering an alternative.

The Mexican electoral problem boils down to one element: all the reforms that have been advanced in the last decades have had a central objective, that of not altering the power structure. That rationale is explicable for an incumbency emanating from a revolution, but entails an evident consequence: sooner or later, the deceit becomes evident. What is peculiar, and pathetic, is that the central challenge derives not from a futurist and promising option (the famous Mexican Macron), but from the most backwater and reactionary perspective possible.

Weeks away from the beginning of the real electoral process (the devil with the formal one), the citizenry knows that its options are limited because of everything that the parties and their politicians have edified. The dilemma in which they, and the entire country, find themselves, is not due to chance.