The Old Guard in a New Mexico

How a Stronger Democracy Will Check the PRI

After voting the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) out of Los Pinos, Mexico's presidential residence, twelve years ago, the country looks poised to bring it back. The PRI's candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, continues to lead the majority of electoral polls by double digits, making it increasingly unlikely that his rivals will catch up by the time polls open on July 1. The same goes for Mexico's congress. With every seat up for grabs, the PRI looks to make headway and perhaps gain a majority in both houses. 

Political rivals and anxious commentators question whether a PRI victory will return Mexico to its less than democratic past. After all, for decades the PRI maintained control by buying votes, co-opting the opposition, and, at times, wielding a heavy repressive hand. Denise Dresser, a prominent Mexican political analyst, has written that the party "continues to be a club of corruption, a preserve of tightly linked political and business interests, a network woven together through the constant exchange of favors and positions, negotiated in the shadows." Meanwhile, an often repeated phrase sums up the view of a significant part of the Mexican population: "They may have been corrupt, but they knew how to govern."

For its part, Peña Nieto's campaign dismisses such concerns by arguing that the PRI today is made up of "a new generation of politicians, one that grew up in this democratic regime." In his stump speech, the candidate has repeatedly assured potential voters that he will not "reinstate the past that we overcame" and positions himself as the face of a new forward-looking political organization. 

Whether the PRI set to take power is a new version of its old self is less important than the fact that Mexico's democratic institutions will hem in the next president, regardless of party or personal preferences.

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