It's impossible to overstate the historical significance of Mexico's elections last week. No longer can it be said our neighbor is a sham democracy, run by a corrupt one-party system. It is graduating into a full-fledged democracy.
The nearly seven-decade reign of the PRI, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution, has been broken. Scores of congressional deputies, governors, senators and mayors were tossed out of office in what was Mexico's first free, fair elections ever - at least by U.S. standards.
The nation is now split into roughly three equal power centers: the PRI, the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, and the conservative National Action Party, or PAN.
The capital, Mexico City, has a new mayor, the PRD's Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, who has twice failed in runs for the presidency but now is Mexico's second most powerful political figure. PRD candidates also drubbed the PRI in Mexico City's assembly.
The reason the Mexican stock market took off, though, was due to the inroads by PAN, whose politicians think like many American conservatives. PAN scored smashing victories in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, the country's industrial epicenter, where PRI candidates had never lost. The PRI also suffered defeats in longtime strongholds such as Acapulco and Chilpancingo, the capital of the coastal state of Guerrero.
What all this means is that the PRI, which used to rule by presidential decree, will have to share power with the two other parties on its Left and Right, forcing a change in how Congress operates.
Instead of the PRI majority routinely passing every presidential initiative, the new lineup will require deals to be made in a genuine democratic give-and-take. For the first time this century there'll be a real separation between executive and legislative powers.
Ironically, President Ernesto Zedillo of the PRI, who will be losing so much of his power, is also chiefly responsible for delivering free and fair elections. Now his policies will be attacked from both Left and Right, just as they were during this year's campaign, leading up to the presidential elections in a few years.
Yet Zedillo can take some comfort in that history will record him as the man, along with the Mexican people themselves, who finally made true democracy happen.
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