The Case of Mexican Democracy
The Chinese Communist Party had a good week
without doing anything themselves. All of a sudden, there is a flourish of
stories from all over the place that point out concrete examples of why
democracy often does not work in practice. Here, this is without even
referencing the relatively old examples of Hamas in Palestine and the pro-Iran
Shi'ite Islamo-fundamentalist coalition in Iraq. Nor about the
hypothetical speculations about a future democratic China (see Simon
World). This week's Yazhou
Zhoukan (Asia Weekly) (issue dated March 12) gave heavy play to the two ongoing
examples of troubled democracies in Philippines and Thailand (亞洲民主的脆弱與反思).
Meanwhile, in updating my Latin American website, I came across another instant
replay of the same trap. It was like reading the same playbook.
There is a presidential election coming up in Mexico, but the people seemed to be unenthusiastic and dispassionate. Understandably, it is hard for the general public to get emotionally involved in the campaign of PRI candidate Roberto Madrazgo. Washington Post describes this career public servant with an annual income of less than US$100,000: Madrazgo lives in a 14,000-sq-ft home on a 3.6 acre overlooking the city (19 14'22.79" N, 99 10' 16.50" W. on Google Earth), he has five houses, there 2,800-sq-ft condominiums, a Porsche, a BMW, a Ford Expedition, $500,000 in gold and cash and $250,000 more that he has lent to people. Everything is his, no mortgages, no monthly payments. And Madrazgo refuses to discuss the source of his wealth beyond his father (also a public servant) left him with a lot of money.
But the apparent flaws of one individual does not explain the general apathy. The fuller explanation is given in this Houston Chronicle article.
Like many thousands of Mexicans, Guillermo Pizzuto spent decades struggling to bring democracy to his country: marching in countless protests, enduring beatings by police, winning office as an opposition candidate.
Democracy finally is grabbing hold here.
Elections are mostly clean, and political parties unmolested. Local and state governments enjoy greater autonomy. Congress and the courts have been unleashed from presidential control. And this July's presidential elections might well be the most evenly balanced, wide open and unpredictable in Mexican history.
So Pizzuto feels vindicated, right?
Not even close.
Like many millions of Mexicans, Pizzuto thinks that democracy has come up far short. He and many others complain that the country's politicians are out to help themselves, not Mexico's poor majority.
"Democracy, such as it is, exists because there were a lot of people pushing for it from below," said Pizzuto, 61, whose family-owned foundry employs hundreds of workers in San Luis Potosi, a colonial city and industrial center in the high desert 250 miles north of Mexico City.
"It was an effort by many people, for many years," he said. "It wasn't about going after an election victory. It was about creating a space for society and government to work together. Seeing how things are now, who wouldn't be disappointed?"
"All Mexico thought that it was enough to overthrow the PRI and substitute it with another party for politics to work," said political analyst Luis Aguilar, a top political operative in the last PRI presidency in the 1990s. "It was a terribly simplistic position in which the intellectuals and politicians participated. The PRI political system fell, but a democratic political system wasn't constructed."
What's frustrating, many ordinary Mexicans say, is that once in power, former opposition political parties have seemed nearly as susceptible to graft, inefficiency and haughtiness as the PRI. [Vicente] Fox himself takes heat for talking big and delivering small. Many Mexicans resent his inability to push major reforms through an opposition Congress. And they point to corruption accusations involving the sons of his second wife, Marta Sahagun, as evidence that little has changed in Mexico.
"Mexico has suffered a setback," said Judith Sanchez, 25, a student in San Luis Potosi. "There are still so many poor. When you look at the Mexican Revolution, how many people died for a dream? If they were alive today, they'd die again out of disgust."
If Fox's election didn't bring heaven to Earth, neither has the sky fallen.
"Fox has been a disappointment. He has not been a total failure," said Aguayo, the political scientist. "But all of a sudden we find that some of the instruments that make democracy possible are not working."
Consider political parties. To win elections today, they must stitch together coalitions with others with whom they have nothing in common. Such alliances made sense when divergent groups were trying to end one-party rule. But in an open democracy, some activists say, they make ideology and values meaningless.
"It's the brutal pragmatism of power," said Pizzuto, who was elected San Luis Potosi's mayor as the candidate of a nonpartisan citizens' movement 20 years ago. Political parties "are just different families looking for power," he said. "They don't represent society. It's a mockery of democracy."
Only 22 percent of voters turned out in the mayoral election three years ago.
"The problem is that society is not in the game," Pizzuto said. "The political parties took over the social movement."
But dramatic change takes time, some political analysts counter. "That's what democracies are, political parties," said Federico Estevez, a Mexico City political analyst. "You can't have government without the parties."
"You have to be patient."