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  • Dilemmas of Political Change in Mexico
  • William Suárez-Potts
Kevin J. Middlebrook , ed., Dilemmas of Political Change in Mexico. London: Institute of Latin American Studies, 2003. Figures, tables, index, 570 pp.; paperback $24.95.

The defeat of the presidential candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Francisco Labastida, in the July 2000 elections signaled the end of that state party's near-total domination of national politics in Mexico. The victory of Vicente Fox and the National Action Party (PAN), however, did not signify the completion of Mexico's transition to democracy. If we can speak of a successful transition to electoral democracy at the national level in Mexico, the processes of democratic transition in other political and social fields remain in flux, subject to multiple factors. Comprehending Mexico's contemporary, dynamic political situation in its complexity is surely a daunting task, even for the social scientist. Dilemmas of Political Change, edited by Kevin J. Middlebrook and comprising 17 essays, undertakes the project superbly.

The essays in Dilemmas evolved from a conference sponsored in 1999 by the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, which focused on political change in contemporary Mexico. Most of the contributors are political scientists or sociologists based in major Mexican or U.S. universities. The essays were revised and updated to reflect changes since Fox's victory; and Middlebrook has written an excellent introduction to provide an overview and historical context. Generally, the essays consider Mexico's uneven progress toward electoral democracy and the problems of extending democratic practices and norms into nonelectoral arenas, including the decentralization of political authority, the balance of power between state and [End Page 186] society, and the need to guarantee effectively citizenship rights and the rule of law.

The 16 chapters are arranged in 4 sections, approximately as follows: changes in the electoral system, political parties and voting behavior; intergovernmental relations; the changing relationship between the (civilian) state and business, labor, rural producers, the media, and the military; and the emergence of new social groups and their relationship with the state. While each chapter represents the particular research and concerns of its authors, read together they provide an incisive portrait of Mexico's contemporary political situation and the challenges posed by further democratization.

Thus the first section analyzes the main elements of Mexico's transition to a competitive, electoral democratic system at the national level. José Crespo and Silvia Gómez Tagle in their studies basically concur that the PAN's triumph in July 2000 resulted substantially from consecutive reforms of electoral institutions (over a period of more than 20 years) that ultimately permitted freer electoral campaigns. The reforms in election laws and institutions in turn resulted from pressures exerted by opposition parties and groups, even the Zapatista rebellion in 1994. Jorge Buendía's empirical study of voting behavior shows how issue saliency changed and eventually favored opposition candidate Fox in July 2000.

The assumption of the presidency by the opposition candidate brought an end not only to PRI hegemony but also to the tradition of presidential domination of all branches of government and national politics. The essays in the second section of Dilemmas consider three principal aspects of governmental relations since the demise of presidencialismo. Jeffrey Weldon studies executive-legislative relations, particularly since the party of the president lost control of the federal Chamber of Deputies in 1997. His fine article is especially informative about the rules and practices governing legislative politicking. Alberto Díaz Cayeros's chapter discusses the dilemmas of a federal system in which regional economic discrepancies are huge, correctly focusing on the questions of tax raising and revenue sharing.

Beatriz Magaloni and Guillermo Zepeda's essay is more concerned with the pervasive problems of public insecurity and crime that Mexicans confront than with judicial institutions. (It is police or law enforcement agencies that have to deal with criminal activity in the first instance, not the courts.) This study's cross-sectional econometric analyses of crime and democratizing systems rebut suppositions that democratization itself engenders crime. The authors find that Mexico's rise in crime "had two main causes: economic recession and the failure of...


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pp. 186-190
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2007
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