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In Mid-Term Elections, Mexico Emerges as a Mature Democracy

New America Media, Commentary, Louis E.V. Nevaer Posted: Jul 09, 2009

MERIDA, Mexico -- In this past Sundays midterm elections in Mexico, President Felipe Calderons party suffered a stunning rebuke from voters that, more than a defeat for the governing party, demonstrated the maturity of Mexicos democracy.

In democracies around the world, midterm elections give voters the opportunity to reaffirm, or repudiate, the results of the preceding national elections. They can do this by giving the party in power a wider margin in the legislature, or by voting for the opposition. That Mexicans voted to deny Calderons right-of-center National Action Party (PAN) a wider majority in Congress, and instead gave the opposition, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a solid majority is a stunning referendum on Mexicans sentiments on where the country is headed.

But Sundays election results also reaffirm the emergence of Mexico as a mature democracy, which can be measured in four fundamental ways.

First, the interests of the middle class prevailed during the midterm campaign.

Despite perceptions, Mexico is not a poor country and, as the World Bank and the London Economist document, more than 60 percent of Mexicos population meets the criteria for being classified as middle class. It is this segment of the voting public that has been hardest hit by the global economic recession, which was aggravated earlier this spring when Calderon effectively shut down the country because of the AH1NI, or swine flu, virus. Calderons draconian measure rendered Mexico an international pariah nation, affecting the livelihoods of scores of millions of Mexican families. The government now estimates that Mexicos economy will shrink 6.5 to 7 percent this year -- the worst economic performance in more than 75 years.

Second, the party in power accepted its defeat.

In a world where leaders, from exiled Honduran president Manuel Zelaya to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, strive to extend their rule by changing their countrys constitutions or defying the votes cast for the opposition, there is no doubt that Mexicos government accepts the results as authentic.

The nations voters have spoken, Felipe Calderon said on Monday, without further comment. More to the point, as the results were announced, it was Calderons party that began soul-searching: How could this have happened? While the answer may still not be known with certainty, what was clear was that Mexicos political system had matured: Forty-eight hours after polls closed, Gerardo Martinez, president of PAN submitted his resignation. I accept complete responsibility as the partys president, he said.

This is an unusual gesture in Mexican politics, Salvador Camarena wrote in Spains leading newspaper, El Pais, noting that the era of political impunity in Mexico was drawing to a close.

Third, in times of economic turmoil, the political center is strengthened in mature democracies. In Sunday's election, Mexicans voted for the PRI - the political center.

By returning to power the party that had ruled the country for seven decades in the 20th century, voters rewarded a political party that had spent the better part of a decade learning from its errors and becoming attuned to the interests of voters. Sundays election, in other words, curbed the power of the ruling right-of-center PAN and, more significantly, dealt a crushing blow to the left-of-center Democratic Revolution Party (PRD).

In 2006, when Felipe Calderon was elected, Mexicos largest party was the conservative PAN, followed by the liberal PRD, with the centrist PRI trailing far behind. Following Sundays election, however, the PRI is now the largest political party, followed by the PAN, with the PRD reduced to an almost-insignificant player.

The fact that Mexico has shifted firmly to the political center stands in sharp contrast with the rest of Latin America, where governments from Ecuador to Nicaragua, Bolivia to Venezuela have seen leftist regimes elected to office.

The final sign of the maturity of Mexicos democracy is, paradoxically, that voters forced politicians to negotiate. By denying Calderons party a majority in Congress, the Mexican electorate is forcing the PAN and the PRI to work together to solve the nations pressing problems. Among these are, of course, reversing the economic downturn precipitated by the global financial crisis, increasing jobs, restoring Mexicos tourism industry and tackling the lingering problems of how to reform oil and electric power industries to meet the needs of Mexico this century. The risk, as the United States knows too well, is political gridlock, where nothing gets done. That is a risk Mexicans are prepared to take this electoral go-around.

North of the border, these nuances are lost. In the United States, which is intent on seeing Mexico as a nation of lost opportunities (corporate America is prohibited from entering Mexicos oil or electric power generation industries) or one that does its dirty work (carrying out proxy and futile wars against drug trafficking, or providing an endless supply of labor to be exploited by American employers), Sundays elections are seen as a rebuke to Calderons War on Drugs.

The idea that drug cartels funneled money to the PRI in order to defeat Calderons PAN overlooks the realpolitik of the drug cartels: Drug money flowed to all parties.

Mexican voters cast a ballot for accountability. Calderon failed to deliver, and his party was punished at the ballot box. Expressing dissatisfaction with their leaders through peaceful elections is how democracy is strengthened. By this measure, last Sunday, Mexicos democracy was the clear and undisputed winner.

Louis Nevaer is a contributor to NAM whose new book, "Managing Hispanic and Latino Employees," will be published in December 2009.

Related Articles:

Journey into a Paranoid Mexico

As Swine Flu Spreads, So Does Backlash Against Mexico

Militarys Battle Against Mexican Drug Cartels Terrorizes Civilians

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