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Journal of Democracy 11.4 (2000) 25-32

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Mexico's Victory

Vicente Fox and the Rise of the Pan

David A. Shirk

National Action Party (PAN) candidate Vicente Fox Quesada and Mexican voters have finally achieved what was once deemed impossible, resoundingly defeating the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the 2 July 2000 national elections. Most observers could not believe that the opposition had actually won until President Ernesto Zedillo officially conceded the election to Fox. Certainly, no one could have predicted a Fox victory without having paid careful attention to the gradual but important advances of the PAN at the state and local level over the last 20 years, to the rise of Vicente Fox within the PAN, and to the increasing political maturity of the Mexican electorate.

The PAN was formed in Mexico City in September 1939 by professionals, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and Catholics seeking an institutional alternative to the PRI, which had emerged as the ruling party in the aftermath of the Mexican Revolution. Although it has been frequently portrayed as a reactionary party, the PAN's advocacy of free and fair elections, a competitive multiparty system, effective federalism (with due respect for state and local autonomy), and the separation of powers (especially the development of a truly independent legislature) closely matches the Revolution's original goals. In particular, there is considerable overlap between PAN doctrine and the primary aims of the father of the Mexican Revolution, Francisco I. Madero, who advocated "effective suffrage" and an end to the political monopoly of the Porfirio Diaz regime (1877-1910). This convergence establishes the PAN as a legitimate member of Mexico's revolutionary family, albeit only a [End Page 25] distant cousin of the groups that came to dominate Mexican politics during the past century. 1

To be sure, the party has historical connections to business groups and religious activists who showed initial interest in the PAN because of the PRI regime's leftist and anticlerical tendencies in the late 1920s and 1930s. With the passing of the administration of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-40), however, the PRI was able to draw most businessmen back into the fold by shifting sharply to the right. As a result, the PAN lost most of its wealthiest supporters, and those who remained were committed primarily to the party's agenda of liberal-democratic reform and the protection of religious freedom. The party's religious wing gained considerable strength in the 1960s and early 1970s, but it was strongly influenced by international Christian Democratic organizations and left-leaning liberation theology. In any case, after an internal conflict prevented the party from nominating a presidential candidate in 1976, and as small and medium-sized business interests flocked to the party in the early 1980s, the balance of power within the leadership shifted in favor of more secular and pragmatic leaders.

Thus, although there are "conservative" and Catholic elements within the PAN, the party is better understood as a liberal-democratic alternative to PRI authoritarianism than as a Catholic reaction to the revolution. The PAN's ideology and programmatic agenda can be divided into two broad areas of emphasis. The first, which stems from the philosophy of early PAN leaders--notably lawyer and financial guru Manuel Gómez Morin--stresses the application of liberal-democratic principles to the party's internal organization and strategies for governance. Reform-minded activists like Gómez Morin favored a legal and nonviolent political role for the PAN; a more equitable balance of power at the federal, state, and local levels; and the protection of individual citizens, educational and religious institutions, and labor from intervention and manipulation by the state.

The second broad area of emphasis within PAN ideology speaks to a less precisely defined set of normative, spiritual, and social-welfare concerns. Typically described within the party as a philosophy of "political humanism," it draws heavily from Jesuit teachings. In contrast to the practical, largely secular approach of the PAN's liberal-democratic vision, "political humanism" focuses on perfecting man as a spiritual being (as well as...


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