The Americas 61.2 (2004) 338-339
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It is only natural that Yemile Mizrahi should write one of the first books in English in thirty years on Mexico's longest-lived opposition party. She pioneered efforts among North American Mexicanists to draw attention to the party's increasing role in the early 1990s, and especially to the changing posture of the private sector toward participating in electoral politics. As she argues in the Introduction, she correctly believed that Mexican democracy through such organizations as the National Action Party (PAN), would emerge at the grass roots level, from which they would establish a foothold, and severely test the incumbent Party of the Institutional Revolution's (PRI) monopoly on political participation.
The strength of this insightful work stems from the author's extensive field research in Mexico, and her contact and ultimately friendships with numerous leading politicians and businessmen engaged in wresting control of the political system long before PAN achieved success on the national level. The crux of the book focuses on the transformation of the party from an embattled opponent since its founding in 1939, to a governing party on the state and local level since 1989, and as the national incumbent party after Vicente Fox's presidential victory in 2000. She argues that the PAN developed numerous characteristics strengthening its ability to survive in the hostile environment the PRI created, but that the party now faces different challenges as a governing party and has not adequately met those challenges. She analyzes these conditions within the larger context of the theoretical role of party organizations worldwide, and how the PAN case might fit some of those generalizations.
One of the influential characteristics of the PAN is the amorphous nature of its supporters, what she has described as "a catch-all party" (p. 28). The heterogeneity of its mass support contrasts sharply with the coherence of its leadership, especially before the late 1980s. The most peculiar feature of the PAN is the inability of its traditional leadership to open up and expand party membership, thus solidifying and strengthen its base in a competitive electoral system. She clearly demonstrates on the municipal level the PAN's inability to repeat its electoral victories; its reelection rate was as high as 76 percent in 1995, and as low as 3 percent in 1999. The 36 percent average rate from 1991 to 2001 does not bode well for the party's future.
Her major thesis is that the party's internal rules severely limit the PAN's flexibility to adapt to a more competitive environment. One of the explanations for its inability to alter organizational rules in response to a different political environment, as well as to the party's new role as an incumbent at all levels, is the serious division between two sets of leaders: the traditional party leadership, made up largely of professional people and small businessmen—who were molded in legislative positions and the party bureaucracy—versus newcomers who have emerged from an activist business community. Interestingly, Mizrahi dates these new party activists from 1982, when President José López Portillo nationalized Mexico's banks. These [End Page 338] business leaders strengthened the PAN's electoral appeal, but the party failed to reform its internal regulations to benefit from that increased popularity.
Overall in assessing the party's political abilities, Mizrahi concludes that PAN leaders have demonstrated they are better managers in the sense of achieving integrity and efficiency, but lack a sensitivity to and ability to address the political side of politics. As she points out, they are able to win elections, but quickly distance themselves from the very public which has made their electoral success possible. Leadership tensions accentuate their political problems. Once in office, the newcomers tend to ignore longtime party activists and thus support from that core group...