Weary Mexicans ready to reject the old system: The country's rulers appear in danger of being overtaken by events beyond their control

TO Mexicans, the phrase 'the system has collapsed' is as much a catchphrase as 'the pound in your pocket' or 'the green shoots of recovery' to Britons.

On election night 1988, the then interior minister, Manuel Bartlett, was referring to the government-run computer system which 'collapsed' just as populist presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas looked set to defeat Carlos Salinas de Gortari and end six decades of rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). PRI officials now admit privately that the 'collapse' was a trick and that Mr Cardenas would have won.

Six years on, the same catchphrase is taking on new meaning. Barring miracles, black magic or the mother of all frauds, it is the Mexican system itself - the PRI and the institutions it controls - which appears on the point of terminal collapse.

Next Sunday's six-yearly presidential elections are billed as the closest and the cleanest in Mexico's history. This may be true but the result could prove irrelevant when events are changing faster than anyone could have imagined a year ago. The presumably-close election result may simply be the beginning of a transition to democracy in a country that has long been something of a Soviet-style state minus the ideology.

Closing his campaign before more than 100,000 supporters in Mexico City's zocalo (main square) on Saturday, Mr Cardenas, presidential candidate of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), suggested he would not accept defeat again. Nor did he leave any doubt that he and his party had now linked their fate to that of the so-called Zapatista guerrillas of the south-eastern state of Chiapas.

'If there is fraud, I pledge to call and head the civil resistance,' Mr Cardenas said. 'No one, nothing will contain the anger of the people, no one will be able to oppose the immediate civil resistance.' He was clearly referring to the civil resistance mentioned by subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista guerrillas at a jungle convention last week. Mr Cardenas's platform backdrop carried the white dove symbol of Marcos's jungle convention, and Rosario Ibarra, the fiery left-wing activist appointed in the Lacandon jungle to head the broadened civilian leadership of the Zapatista guerrillas, spoke at the rally.

Although there had been little doubt Mr Cardenas's party's platform largely coincided with that of Marcos's Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), it was the first suggestion of collusion.

Mr Cardenas called on his supporters to take to the streets - 'totally in accordance with the law' - on 22 August, the day after the elections, 'to celebrate our victory'. In effect, since even his closest advisers doubt he could win outright, he appeared to be invoking 'civil resistance' to what is most likely to be a narrow and probably untenable PRI victory.

Mr Cardenas appeared to be assuming responsibility over a broadened opposition movement including the Zapatista guerrillas. They had said last week they were putting themselves under the command of their National Democratic Convention to be headed by Mrs Ibarra.

Despite Mr Cardenas's constant references to staying within 'peace and the law,' he appeared to be warning the PRI and the government that he had influence over whether the EZLN return to arms.

There are no ideological issues in this election. It has simply come down to a battle over whether the results should be believed. The PRI has concentrated its efforts not on policy but on the assurance that the elections will be clean. Much has been made of the fact that the UN is supervising the elections - not as observers, which would upset Mexico's idea of sovereignty, but as 'visitors' - and that Mexican volunteer 'vigilantes' will be watching polling booths. In fact, the Federal Electoral Institute, though multi- party, will be headed by the Interior Minister, Jorge Carpizo, a close friend of Mr Salinas.

Opinion polls almost unanimously suggest the PRI will win. Not, as in the old days, with the 90-odd per cent they used to enjoy - like Khomeini or Gaddafi using similar means. The 'polls' suggest the PRI presidential candidate, Ernesto Zedillo, will win with something like one-third of votes cast. Were you to believe the polls, the conservative National Action Party (PAN) candidate, Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, would come second and Mr Cardenas a distant third.

The polls, however, bear little resemblance to what journalists have ascertained on city streets and in the countryside. One poll, by the Voz y Voto (Voice and Vote) magazine even published an 'Analysis of those how did not respond'. Only a higher power must know how, but they assured reporters most of those who did not respond would vote for the PRI.

'The polls here simply do not tell the truth,' said Jorge Castaneda, one of Mexico's leading intellectuals who is part of a group trying to avoid violence during and after next week's poll. 'One: people don't tell the truth. There's a tradition of fear. Two: the polls are biased,' he said.

Mr Castaneda said he believed subcomandante Marcos was 'going through the motions, to give peace a chance, so to speak,' but that the EZLN remained ready to fight and that there were probably armed movements beyond the state of Chiapas. Another leading intellectual, writer and historian, Enrique Krauze, appeared to agree. 'Civil war is not out of the question,' he said in an interview.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Asset Finance Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - ASSET FINANCE - An outstanding...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Assistant Marketing & PR Manager

£16 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Project Manager (App development, SAP, interfacing)

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum + excellent company benefits: Clearwater People Solu...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment