“In a riot, as in a novel”, wrote Alexis de Tocqueville, “the most difficult thing is to invent the ending.” In this same book, Recollections, the astute French observer noted that “I am firmly convinced that chance can do nothing (without considering) antecedent facts, the nature of institutions, turns of mind, the state of mores are the materials from which chance composes those impromptu events that surprise and terrify us”. In the same fashion, the future of Mexican politics, and of the country, will be generated little by little as the result of the existing ingredients and of those added into the mix.
The first ingredient is without doubt the complex history that precedes us and that establishes inescapable frames of reference. For example, one peculiarity of the sort of authoritarianism that existed in the country is that practically no one in the political world recognizes or accepts it. The PRIists always believed the myth that Mexico was a democracy, which makes many of them inert to many of the changes that have occurred. Authoritarianism has not been discredited in many political sectors and many who exercised it (and who, in many instances, continue to be the instrument of its vices) do not assume it. The flip side of the coin is that democracy has become another myth to which bowing and scraping exists simultaneously with attempts to undermine it. The mechanisms for this objective vary, but the essence does not change: the attempt to recentralize the power, the multiple and renovated mechanisms of control, the manipulation exercised by the television networks, the unwillingness to overcome the de facto powers, the attack against the supposedly autonomous entities.
The second ingredient is the way that the processes of transition in the economy as well as in politics were carried out. The country passed from an era of controls to one of fragmentation but without an agreed-upon blueprint, above all in the political ambit. The electoral reforms were reactive; with few exceptions, there was no construction of institutions that are inherent, and necessary, in an open society; liberalization favored the consolidation of de facto powers that systematically defy society and the government; and all this transpired without agreement on the port of arrival. That is what has led to an important part of the people considering that Mexican society is not yet a democratic society while the other thinks that it always was. The contrast with Spain or Chile is extraordinary: in those countries there was a clear project, consensus about the process and a pledge to construct a distinct future. This continues to be the challenge of Mexico.
The previously mentioned fragility of the country’s institutions is the third ingredient: not only have institutions fitting in a democratic schema for making possible the consolidation of a modern society not been constructed, but also the existing ones keep being undermined. Many of the efforts that have taken shape in the civil society have ended up thwarted by these very de facto powers that threaten and nip them in the bud. The government has acted in this dimension but, revealingly, has procured strengthening itself, not creating checks and balances.
The pact, as the fourth ingredient, is a great idea above all because it lends an ear to the enormous frustration characterizing the citizenry in the face of the politicians’ paralysis and immobility, but its nature entails risks for the parties participating in it and on which, in good measure, they have staked their future. On becoming a straightjacket, the pact could end up impeding the opposition parties from serving as representatives of the citizenry, thus turning them into silent accomplices, the old-fashioned PRI way. On the other hand, if the pact becomes an instance of negotiation in which other agendas advance, the country could emerge hugely strengthened: with new institutions and improved performance.
Fifth, no one can doubt that the entire party system is in crisis. Although the PRI is governing and has been able to conceal its fissures, the circumstances of recent times allowed it to regain the power without reforming itself and it is to be anticipated that divisions will surface to the extent that the government attempts to affect interests, a precondition of any reform. The case of the PRD is distinct: product of the fusion of two histories, the historical Left and the PRI Left, the party now encounters the summons to construct a modern social democracy and, concurrently, to recover the voter base that has supported a statist and reactionary project that no longer tallies with the PRI and that is incompatible with a modern and cosmopolitan Left. The PAN finds itself confronting a division and a legitimacy crisis. The division reflects a deep struggle between the Calderon-led forces that were ignorant of how to employ power to construct a party and the more traditional PANists who are the product of the citizenry. The PAN legitimacy crisis pertains to their poor political skill while in government and, above all, the corruption to which they fell prey on being in power.
For different reasons, none of the three great parties has it easy and none has reasons to jump for joy. Not by chance has the president of the PRI himself been the most ardent critic regarding what is necessary for staying in power.
These ingredients constitute the backdrop. What takes place in the upcoming years will depend on the way each of its components acts. In conceptual terms, there are two possible scenarios: one, the product of adjustment or resignation, would lead to waiving the profound changes that the country requires to be successful. The other would imply converting the pact (and other mechanisms) into instruments of institutional transformation. Inevitably, in a presidential system, the government will call the shots. The opposition parties, and the society in general, can cooperate (for better or worse) or can construct alternatives, but the opportunity lies in the hands of the government.
The future will be the result of the actions and incentives constructed to create a new platform of development. One possibility would doubtlessly be abdication and there are many elements that suggest attempts to recreate the past. The alternative would be for the PRI to take itself on as the reform project and champion a whole new era. The irony is that a scenario like this would render the PRI’s permanence much more probable than that of the beaten path of mediocrity bequeathed to us by its de facto powers or its reluctance to have done with them.
The issue is not new. In Carlos Salinas’ presidential campaign, a woman remarked to the candidate: “It’s better to seal off the ravine than to haul out the ox every six years”. The challenge remains the same.