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MEXICO’S POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT

When did Mexico become democratic?

When countries begin a process of changing from one political model to another, the transition can occur quickly or slowly and can be brought about peacefully or violently. Mexico evolved under a political model that can be described as having been semiauthoritarian from the 1920s through 2000. Most theorists use several criteria to evaluate whether or not a country has become democratic. Typically, the most important factor in almost everyone's definition of democracy is free, fair, and competitive elections. On that basis alone, it could be argued that Mexico had achieved some form of democracy, which can be labeled "electoral democracy," after the 1994 presidential election. The election itself, taking place under newly enforced electoral laws, was viewed as fair, even though some of the conditions under which the opposition parties competed against the longtime incumbent party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), were not equitable. A more precise definition of "electoral democracy," however, suggests that a country has reached that stage when the incumbent party, which in this case had been in power for seventy-one years, loses to an opposing party, which occurred in the 2000 presidential election with the victory of the National Action Party (PAN) candidate, Vicente Fox. President Ernesto Zedillo, the victor in 1994, had contributed to an environment, built on significant electoral reforms in 1996, that ensured that the 2000 election would be fair in nearly all respects. Interestingly, it wasn't until 2016 that this definition of democracy was realized in some states where the incumbent party had never been defeated: namely, the PRI lost gubernatorial elections in four states that it had controlled since 1929: Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Quintana Roo, and Durango.

Despite these achievements, which occurred incrementally and largely without violence, Mexico should continue to be described as an electoral democracy rather than a democracy per se. Other conditions that remain to be met or are not fully implemented include the protection of human rights, a strong and equitable legal system, freedom of speech and press, transparency, and other characteristics linked to social justice. It can be said that Mexico is in the process of democratic consolidation. In other words, it has not fully embraced many of the features associated with liberal democracy in other countries. For example, although investigative journalism has increased dramatically since 2000, contributing to civic support for democratic norms and processes, journalists investigating organized crime have repeatedly been assassinated and threatened. Indeed, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Consequently, most reporters can no longer sign their names to stories involving serious investigations of drug cartels, nor can they carry out intensive research on drug traffickers or their links to public officials. Mexico continues to adopt other components of democracy, but it remains at the building stage to date.

 
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