Mexico – Government

Mexico Table of Contents

FOR MORE THAN THREE GENERATIONS, Mexicans have attributed the origins
of their political system to the Revolution of 1910-20. They cite the
constitution of 1917, a sweeping document that capped nearly a decade of
civil war among rival regional militias, as the foundation of their
modern political institutions and practices. Mexico’s governing
institutions and political culture also bear the imprint of three
centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Mexicans’ adherence to a highly
codified civil law tradition, their acceptance of heavy state
involvement in business and civic affairs, and the deference accorded
the executive over other branches of government can be traced to the
administrative and legal practices of the colonial period. Finally, the
traumatic experiences of the nineteenth century, including foreign
military occupations and the loss of half of the national territory to
the United States, as well as the disillusion sown by a series of
unconstitutional regimes, continue to have a profound impact on
contemporary political culture.

During the 1920s, President Plutarco Elas Calles (1924-28)
reorganized Mexican politics along corporatist (see Glossary) lines as a
way to contain latent social conflicts. Calles expanded the government
bureaucracy to enable it to mediate among rival constituencies and to
dispense state funds to organizations supportive of the
“official” party. Calles also created new umbrella
organizations that lumped together disparate groups according to broad
functional categories. The newly created interest groups depended
heavily on the state for their financing and were required to maintain
strong ties to the ruling party. By grafting corporatist institutions
onto Mexico’s historically fractious political system at a time when
ideologies of the extreme left and right were gaining support throughout
the world, Mexico’s leaders avoided a return to the widespread violence
that had engulfed their country during the 1910s and early 1920s.
Subsequently, the relatively inclusive nature of Mexican corporatism and
the firm foundations of civilian supremacy over the military prevented
Mexico from following the pattern of alternating civilian and military
regimes that characterized most other Latin American countries in the
twentieth century.

One of Calles’s successors, Lzaro Crdenas (1934-40), revived
populism as a force in national politics by redistributing land to
landless peasants under a state-sponsored reincarnation of communal
farming known as the ejido (see Glossary) system. Crdenas
also emphasized nationalism as a force in Mexican politics by
expropriating the holdings of foreign oil corporations and creating a
new national oil company. Cardenas’s reforms of the late 1930s bolstered
the legitimacy of the government while further concentrating power in
the president and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido
Revolucionario Institucional–PRI), the “official” party of
the Revolution. By the early 1940s, the political processes and
institutions that would broadly define Mexican politics for the next
forty years were well established: a strong federal government dominated
by a civilian president and his loyalists within the ruling party, a
symbiotic relationship between the state and the official party, a
regular and orderly rotation of power among rival factions within a de
facto single-party system, and a highly structured corporatist
relationship between the state and government-sponsored constituent
groups.

During the financial crisis of the 1980s, the stable, ritualistic
pattern of Mexican politics instituted by Calles and Crdenas began to
break down. As public funding for a variety of programs dried up, the
state’s role in the economy was scaled back, and the clientelist
relationships developed over four decades between government agencies
and legally recognized constituent groups were weakened. Seeking to
establish a basis for future economic growth, the governments of Miguel
de la Madrid Hurtado (1982-88) and Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94)
carried out a structural adjustment program that systematically rolled
back state ownership and regulation of key industries. They also
eliminated long-standing protectionist legislation that had made Mexico
one of the most closed economies in the world and lifted the
constitutional prohibition on the sale of ejido land to allow
it to be converted to larger, more efficient farms. In the mid-1980s, an
internal rift emerged between the populist and the more technocratic
wings of the ruling party over the market reforms and the authoritarian
nature of the PRI-dominated political system. The economic reforms
initiated by President de la Madrid had been opposed by many members of
the PRI’s core agrarian and labor constituencies. These groups rejected
privatization and the elimination of economic subsidies for consumer
goods and services. The naming of Salinas, a United States-educated
technocrat, as de la Madrid’s successor was also repudiated by the
leftist faction of the PRI leadership. This internal rift developed into
the first major mass defection from the PRI ranks when Cuauhtmoc Crdenas
Solrzano, son of the former president, left the party to contest the
1988 presidential election as head of a coalition of leftist parties.

Since the late 1980s, the PRI has defeated serious electoral
challenges to its central role in Mexican politics from parties of the
left and right. During his presidency, Salinas liberalized the electoral
system but further concentrated power in the executive. The main
objectives of the Salinas administration were to restructure the Mexican
economy and to integrate Mexico into the global market, rather than to
democratize the political system. Nevertheless, the electoral reforms
enacted by Salinas under domestic and international pressure for
democratization set the stage for competitive, internationally monitored
presidential and congressional elections in 1994.

After a strongly contested presidential campaign marred by the
assassination of its original candidate, the PRI maintained its hold on
the presidency with the election of yet another United States-educated
technocrat, Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Len, in August 1994. Zedillo’s
victory preserved the PRI’s dubious distinction as the world’s
longest-ruling political party. The PRI victory also presented Zedillo
and his party with the unenviable challenge of guiding Mexico through a
difficult and uncertain period of economic dislocation and broad
political realignments. By the mid-1990s, most observers believed that
the PRI-dominated political system begun in the 1920s was in an advanced
state of decay and that a transitional period marked by a greater
pluralism of organized political activity was at hand. How this
transition would unfold, and whether it would ultimately lead to a more
participatory and competitive political process across the spectrum of
Mexican society, was yet to be determined.

The Constitution
Government Structure
Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI)

National Action Party
Democratic
Revolutionary Party

Organized Labor
Business Organizations
The Church
The Media
The Electoral Process
and Political Dynamics

Foreign Relations
Relations with the
United States

For more recent information about the government, see Facts
about Mexico
.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress

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