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8 Democracy The Idea of Democratic Transition Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado Primary Materials ● Vuelta (monthly print magazine, 1976–98) ● Entrada libre (Free Entrance) by Carlos Monsiváis (chronicles, 1987) ● La jaula de la melancolía (The Cage of Melancholy) by Roger Bartra (essay, 1987). ● Re by Café Tacuba (music, 1994) ● Todo el poder (Gimme the Power) by Fernando Sariñana (film, 1999) ● Crack: Instrucciones de uso (Crack: Instructions for Use) by Ricardo Chávez Castañeda et al. (manifestos, 2004) ● La era de la discrepancia/The Age of Discrepancies,edited by Olivier Debroise and Cuauhtémoc Medina (exhibition catalog, 2007). T he idea of “democratic transition” in Mexico is the predomi­ nant narrative that structures various events ranging from the be­ gin­ ning, in the 1970s, of the slow decline of the one-party system con­ structed by the Mexican Revolution to the return of the twentieth-century ruling party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), to the presidency in 2012. This is a soft chronology, and scholars and analysts generally differ on the timeline, depending on the elements considered to establish it. The initial Democracy 167 point usually hovers between the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 and the earth­ quake of 1985, and the discussion is generally concerned with the moment in which the monopoly of power exercised by the PRI begins to decline. Simi­ larly, the final point of the period is considered to be either 2000, when Vicente Fox beat the PRI candidate to become president, thereby starting a new era in Mexico, or 2012, when the PRI returned to power, effectively reversing an important part of the transition. Some scholars consider that the transition is still an ongoing process. Regardless of the chronological definition of the period, it is clear that at the core of the idea of democratic transition in Mexico lies the emergence and evolution of a competitive electoral system that would replace the absolute mo­ nopoly of the PRI in government positions.This narrative is the center of José Woldenberg’s Historia mínima de la transición democrática en México (Minimal History of the Democratic Transition in Mexico, 2012). Woldenberg, a former chair of Mexico’s electoral authority and an architect of Mexico’s current vot­ ing system, periodizes the transition on the basis of legal electoral reforms and their outcomes in the production of both independent voting institutions and the gradual achievements of opposition parties in conquering offices,from state governorships and congressional seats to the presidency. Woldenberg’s account is a prime example of the core notion of democratization and democratic tran­ sition in Mexico. Its kernel has always been the opposition to the PRI and the strategies through which citizens erode the party’s dominance. Thus, the electoral process is always at the center of discussions because it is generally be­ lieved that the ballot box would empower Mexican citizens to dislodge power from the PRI.The complexity of the notion of democratic transition is that the mere electoral component, while crucial, fails to fully account for the process of democratization in Mexico. When one takes a more comprehensive look at the past few decades of Mex­ ican history, it becomes clear that a series of parallel processes took place and that their analysis is indispensable in order for one to make sense of what the Mexican democratic transition is, or was supposed to be, and how much of it actually took place.One should at least highlight three processes that accompa­ nied the erosion of the PRI. First, the Mexican democratic transition is closely tied to the emergence of economic neoliberalism.Indeed,one of the conditions that made possible the opening of the Mexican political system was the eco­ nomic crisis cycles experienceed by the country,most notably the ones resulting from the collapse of oil prices and the banking nationalization in the early 1980s. 168 Ignacio M. Sánchez Prado As scholars like Sarah Babb have observed, this allowed the Mexican economy to be placed in the hands of U.S.-trained technocrats who would begin the process of slowly dislodging the protectionist, clientelist economy constructed by the PRI. It is patently clear that electoral reforms ran parallel to phenomena more directly related to economic liberalization. For instance, some elements of media diversification (such as the rise of cable television and the emergence of Televisión Azteca and other alternatives to the Televisa media monopoly) were directly tied to the privatization of state assets. But perhaps...


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