A previous post focused on the economic reforms of President Ernesto Zedillo, 1994-2000. This article discusses his very important political reforms.
1994 was a very important and difficult year for Mexico. It started with the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, which the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Insititucional) government brutally put down, infuriating many Mexicans and leading to giant protest demonstrations against the PRI. Liberation theology was gaining strength and blaming PRI for human rights abuses as well as the impoverishment of the Mexican people. Furthermore, the economy was slipping into a severe crisis.
Following tradition, President Salinas personally selected Donaldo Colosio to succeed him as the PRI President of Mexico. While other parties nominated candidates, PRI had held an iron grip on the Presidency and Mexican politics for over 60 years.
In March 1994 the PRI presidential candidate Colosio was assassinated in Tijuana. The PRI was held responsible for all the country’s problems and Salinas was in a very difficult spot. Old PRI hard-liners (“dinosaurs”) pressed Salinas to name one of them as the next president, but Salinas knew he had to select a “clean” candidate that would help the PRI regain some credibility. Salinas selected as the replacement, Colosio’s young campaign manager and technocrat Ernesto Zedillo. Zedillo, the “accidental president”, easily won the relatively fair 1994 election.
Zedillo was dedicated to political reform. He took dramatic steps to counter corruption. Apparently not trusting anyone within his own PRI party, he appointed as his Attorney General, Antonio Lozano Gracia from the opposition PAN party. Lozano aggressively prosecuted and indicted numerous senior PRI officials, including Salinas’ brother, on a variety of corruption charges. In 1995 Zedillo replaced the country’s entire Supreme Court, which then began to rule against PRI dominated government agencies on a regular basis. Zedillo implemented reforms which separated the ruling PRI party from the Government of Mexico, thus terminating the practice of using government agencies and revenues to support PRI political campaigns.
Zedillo initiated multiparty talks on political reform and began transferring some power away from his own office and toward Mexico’s Congress and 31 states. He made the Federal Elections Commission more transparent by increasing the oversight and participation by opposition parties. He reformed the law giving the President the power to appoint the Mayor of Mexico City, who henceforth would be popularly elected.
These reforms brought dramatic change to local, state, and national elections in July 1997. The opposition PDR party candidate for Mexico City mayor, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, garnered nearly 50% of the vote and was elected, defeating the PRI candidate by a wide margin. Opposition party candidates also swept several state governorships. Most significantly, the PRI lost control of the lower house of the Mexican Congress for the first time in history. Finally, after almost 70 years of PRI domination, Mexico was becoming a real democracy and the Mexican public rejoiced in their new democratic powers.
Zedillo decided not to personally select his successor in the traditional way. Instead, the PRI would hold a national primary enabling the voters to select the next PRI presidential candidate. He also loosened the PRI government’s grip on the media, opening the door to more objective political reporting. Under Zedillo’s watch, Mexico enjoyed a clean and fair election in the summer of 2000 which, for the first time in over 70 years, elected a non-PRI candidate as President in the person of Vicente Fox of PAN.
The reforms of the Zedillo Administration largely leap-frogged Mexico from an economically-unstable, single party state, to a relatively modern 21st century multiparty democracy. President Ernesto Zedillo is distinguished from his predecessors by his integrity, vision, and for doing what was best for Mexico, not for himself, his cronies, or his political party. Ernesto Zedillo was and is an inspiration to his country and the world. Everyone living in Mexico owes him a great debt of gratitude for modernizing Mexico’s economy and democracy as well as making Mexico a far better place.
Chapter 12 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico discusses the political map of Mexico. Buy your copy today to have a handy reference guide to all major aspects of Mexico’s geography!