Special Report on Mexico: The institutionalised revolution is in flux: A shake-up in the PRI's traditional structure is following hard on economic consolidation

WHEN only a few hundred people turned up in the main square of Villa Madero a few weeks ago, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas could not hide his disappointment. 'The turnout is always low early in the day,' the leader of the centre-left opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) said. 'Just wait until the afternoon.'

With 11 states holding gubernatorial elections this year, the western state of Michoacan was seen as the PRD's best hope. Cuauhtemoc's father, Lazaro Cardenas, was governor of the state and one of the most popular presidents in the 1930s. When Cuauhtemoc unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Salinas for the presidency in 1988, he outpolled Mr Salinas there by nearly three to one. But on 12 July, the party lost its main stronghold to the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

That result represents a dilemma for both parties. For the PRD, which has claimed widespread fraud at the polls, it will inevitably mean a shake-up of the party. For the PRI, desperate to prove that the government's days of stuffing ballot boxes are over, the problem is whether any decisive victory can be credible.

Mr Salinas won in 1988 in an election considered by many Mexicans to be fraudulent. Even official figures gave him only 50.4 per cent of the vote, the worst showing by a president in Mexican history. Since then, charges of vote-rigging have continued. 'We're paying the price for our past mistakes,' said Agustin Basave, a PRI congressman from the northern state of Nuevo Leon.

The PRI conceded defeat to the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in Chihuahua's gubernatorial election on 12 July - only the second time since the ruling party was founded in 1929 that an opposition candidate emerged victorious in a state election.

President Salinas is deeply aware of the need for political reform, and knows that with the Nafta free-trade pact pending, critics north of the Rio Grande are keeping a close eye on Mexico. Since coming to power, Mr Salinas has been obliged to remove eight state governors and he forced two PRI candidates from office last year after allegations of fraud in mid-term elections.

Party managers, headed by the PRI's new chief, Genaro Borrego Estrada, 41, are struggling to replace the traditional corporatist structure of the party with a regionally based organisation. They want to attract the new middle classes and have selected young professionals as candidates, rather than the politicos of the past. The 1988 shock convinced party leaders that the old PRI structure would have to change.

The PRI 'has to make reforms even deeper than those it has introduced already,' Mr Salinas told The Independent.

But the President believes political reform must follow economic consolidation. The demise of communism in the former Soviet Union has not gone unnoticed. 'We want a process of reform that lasts,' Mr Salinas said. 'And one that allows the country to keep itself together. Not reform that disintegrates the country, or that generates conflict.'

But a growing number of Mexicans question the wisdom of forging ahead with progressive economic policies while ignoring the cries for pluralism. For 63 years, Mexico's essentially one-party system has provided a stability envied throughout Latin America. With nine more state elections and dozens of municipal ones up for grabs, this year will be a test of how deep the government's commitment to democracy really runs.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before