Government and Democracy?

Luis Rubio

In her extraordinary book on the way the Soviets controlled and imposed their law on the nations behind the “Iron Curtain”, Anne Applebaum* analyzes the differences in the evolution of each of these. For example, she shows how the countries that have been the most successful after the fall of the Berlin Wall are those that saw the development of an “alternative elite” in parallel to the existing government. There where there had been active discussions on the way to modernize the economy or to increase civil rights and collaboration among persons who, in time, established trusting relationships, the transition to capitalism was easy and nearly natural. In Poland the Solidarity Union, led by Lech Walesa, had been articulating and testing distinct forms of government for a decade; in Hungary there were groups of economists analyzing and comparing schemas of economic development. Contrariwise, in places where there were no similar situations, the old Communist politicians disguised themselves as democrats and appropriated the power once again. On reading this book I asked myself, which of the two is more like Mexico?

The return of the PRI has created an enormous wave of speculation. For some this constitutes the end of the schizophrenia, for others the revamping of the wheel of fortune. The requisite question for the citizenry must be distinct: What will the implications be of the change for the exercise of their rights, the development of the country, their family income and their security?

If, as Applebaum affirms, the success of some Eastern European countries was due to the existence of the alternative elites’ capacity for governing, the question is how is Mexico similar and how may it be differentiated from these. On the one hand, Mexico has for decades been developing an extraordinary technical capacity for being able to conduct governmental affairs. Legions of professional and well groomed economists have become the “platform” that permits the government as well as the parties in power to function. The civil society grows and comes to adopt ever more sophisticated forms. These examples could make one think that Mexico is similar to successful countries.

On the other hand, there are traits, such as the dysfunctional nature of the country’s politics of recent years, which suggest a resemblance to less successful nations. In contrast with Soviet totalitarianism, the Mexican political system allowed –in a “limited” manner- the development of opposition parties and, reluctantly or however, tolerated their victories little by little. Logic would have indicated that, in parallel with their growing presence in local and eventually in state governments, these parties would have developed the capacity to govern. However, with few and notable exceptions, this certainly did not occur in the PAN and only took place in limited fashion with the PRD. The fact that practically all winning candidates of the PAN-PRD coalitions have originally been PRIists speaks for itself.

There are numerous attempts to explain why this happened. Some assert that the PANist culture is incompatible with the functions of government: that they don’t have the malice required to exercise power. Others observe the behavior of the politicians and conclude that the problem is cultural and lies in the absence of democrats. Some, wiser still, recognize that the problem resides in the incentives that exist. For example, Fox had been so successful because of winning the election (and defeating the PRI after 70 years in power) that his potential for overcoming this feat was small, creating the perverse incentive of doing nothing more once in the presidency.

Applebaum** compares the performance of the diverse European countries from the fall of the wall with what took place with the “Arab Spring” nations and infers that alternative elites do not emerge from a vacuum and that, especially in the less successful European countries, they took years to consolidate. The author’s conclusion is that now that many begin to bury the incipient Levantine democracies, it is just when these may have begun to germinate. Could something similar be said about parties like the PAN and the PRD that face fundamental processes of internal redefinition?

These musings on the political moment that we live in make me think that the country is encountering a basic challenge that perhaps will terminate in defining its future in coming years One possibility is that the PRIist government will become established, will break through the impediments that have kept the country semi-paralyzed and will achieve its dream of maintaining the power per omnia secula seculorum, or whatever this would imply within a framework of democratic competition. Another resides in that the attempt to govern without assuming the costs concludes in a mediocre governmental and economic performance that leads it to lose the next presidential election or the following. Nothing is written in stone and anything can happen. That’s what creates a dynamic environment.

Most of the last decades, including the recent ones, were carried out without plan, without project and without political agreement betwixt and between. The result can be observed in the mediocrity of the same and in the level of conflict and political rancor accompanying it. What happens in the upcoming years will depend on the summation of citizen acts and those of their organizations, in the way that the political parties evolve, and of the degree of success of the government.

As the body responsible for governing and conducting public affairs, the government has the opportunity to construct the conditions that lead to the development of this alternative elite of which Applebaum speaks and, with this, to exert an influence on its transformation, instead of letting itself be carried along by the tide of inertia that the old PRI possesses in its entrails, devoting itself actively to constructing a novel political system, one compatible with the challenges and realities of a global world in the 21st century.

In his history of the fall of Rome, Edward Gibbon describes the way that laws end up being too numerous and the government so arbitrary that everything becomes immobilized. According to Gibbon, the Roman government ended up “uniting the evils of liberty and servitude” to the point that it destroyed its own empire.

Mexico has experienced two alternations of parties in power but has not achieved consolidating a modern system of government. It could continue to steep in commonplaceness, collapsing like Rome or tackling the road to development. Time will tell.


*    Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe