Tuesday, August 01, 2006

This is not 1988 (or 1968) - Mexican Election Post #18

MALO staged a set of sit ins yesterday in Mexico City to "explain" to the Mexican people how he and his supporters would not expect anything but a victory (no matter what the count). His thinking is evidently to influence the tribunal that is trying to sort out the claims and counter-claims relating to the very close election.

In earlier times the strategy which MALO is playing out would be very effective. Mexico was a very centralized country. The Mexican Navy is based in a city that has no places to put the ships. A lot of communication - financial, transportation, service - is routed through the Federal District. Road systems and airlines seem to route through Mexico City.

In 1968, when a group of students wanted to press some issues and the then president of Mexico did not want to show badly with the then upcoming Olympics, a demonstration that turned ugly and by some was known as the Night of Tlatelolco. The demonstrations got violent - in part created by government agents and Ordaz was able to quiet the furor at the excess show of force. It was logical to pursue that strategy when Mexico City was the center of the Mexican universe. Under the PRI, centralization was a key element of the political system. It was a hierarchial system.

Beginning in 1988, that began to change, as it did all around the world. Listen to Kenichi Ohmae, who concidentially (at least for me) became a worldwide figure around the time of the 1988 election. Ohmae formulated, in a series of excellent books on the notion of the decline of the nation state. He talked about customers, corporations and competitors. He was also very thoughtful about the changes in relationships that all of us now take for granted. His writings anticipated the decline in the importance of hierarchies. That trend did not expose itself in all places at the same time. In the 1988 election, in a potential last gasp of the PRI hierarchy, Cardenas (the Grandfather of the PRD) lost an election in what some observers called the "long count." Cardenas was winning at one point in the count the screens and the IBM computer doing the count went down and then when they came back up Carlos Salinas became the winner. There was a lot of speculation that the PRI manipulated the results.

In the 1994 election, the PRI seemed to be in control again. They elected Ernesto Zedillo. The PRI thought they had a continuation of their then 60+ years of rule of the country. But Zedillo was not exactly what they thought he was. Zedillo should be credited as an important transition president. During his time, the country began to change, ever so slowly. An election commission (the IFE) was created. Economic growth began to flourish. But in the middle of Zedillo's six year term change began to get out of the PRI's hands. A couple of states went to alternative parties. And then in 2000 in a major change the country elected Vicente Fox.

By any account Fox has not met expectations. Economic growth has been slower than expected. There are still some significant monopolies controlled by the government. But the trend started in 2000 has continued unabated. Over the last couple of years I have worked with a couple of state governors in Mexico who are evidence of the new trend. They are not all members of one party. What they have in common is a group of talented cabinet secretaries and staff and a strong commitment to make the Mexican federal system real.

Some transitions, when the ruling party ran a system for more than 70 years, take some time to be fulfilled. But I believe the forces that began to be explained by Ohmae and were visible in Mexico with actions by Zedillo and Fox are continuing in Mexico. MALOs denial of those trends may be at his own peril.

So what might be the effects of MALOs disruptions of Mexico City? As I see it there are a couple of high possibilities. The first might be some anger in the provinces. It is unlikely that these demonstrations will bring the nation together, indeed, some of those governors and their constituents are likely to work all the harder to implement their vision of Mexican federalism. A second possibility is that the protests could cower the Tribunal into submission to offer something to MALO. But even if they offer him the election (which I believe to be unlikely) the first trend is unlikely to be abated. Third, the disruptions in Mexico City could encourage economic producers to begin to figure out how to integrate their activities outside of the DF. Ohmae wrote impressively about the importance of commercial dyads. For example, he argued that the relationship between Tijuana and San Diego is stronger than the tie between Mexico City and Tijuana or Washington, DC and San Diego. The commercial relationships continue to build - in spite of Telmex and Pemex and other monopolies - across borders.

In any event, even if Calderon is awarded the election he won, he will need to think carefully about how to govern. MALO is not likely to go away, even if some of his supporters are willing to begin to oppose his tactics. But my impression is that Calderon is a lot more practical than Fox and his colleagues were. I expect he will be a bit more effective than Fox. MALO should recognize that the conditions that spawned 1968 and 1988 are simply less important than they were.

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