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Perestroika Where the Air is Clear Just How Much Electoral Democracy Will President Salinas de Gortari Tolerate? BY LEON LAZAROFF Mexico City LARGE SCALE protest marches, sitins, and an unusual alliance between parties of the left and the right, are forcing Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revoan electoral system that has gone a long way toward keeping the party continuously in power for six decades. Opposition parties are hoping to turn years of public frustration with electoral fraud into concrete reforms at a special session of the national legislature that convened in late August. The PRI was put on the defensive after residents of the poor and rural state of Michoacan took to the streets in unprecedented numbers, charging that the ruling party used massive vote-tampering to win 12 or 18 seats in the state legislature during the July 2 elections. As the home state of leader Cuauhtdmoc Cardenas, Michoacan has been viewed as the new center-left party’s stronghold. Few doubt the party’s overwhelmingly popularity in the western state. A year ago, as a presidential candidate, Cardenas won Michoacan with 64 percent of the vote, though some observers say the total was much higher. PRD supporters charged the PRI with a familiar lineup of improprieties: “shaving” members from the electoral register, intimidating party representatives, stealing ballot boxes, and forging voter tallies. Angered by preliminary results of the elections, citizens took to the state’s highways, blocking traffic in an effort to draw national attention to the marred contest. On the day the state’s PRI-dominated Electoral College gathered to certify the vote, fighting broke out between PRI and PRD supporters in the state capital of Morelia. The army stepped in and at least 50 people were injured. Party leader Cardenas charged that the fighting was started by PRI-provocateurs planted inside in the PRD march. After the results were confirmed, frustrated PRD activists took over and occupied more than 70 of the state’s 113 city halls. Tension in Leon Lazaroff is a reporter for The Mexico Journal, a weekly magazine published in Mexico City. Michoacan has yet to dissipate. The Mexican press, which has a history of uncritical praise for the government, wrote endlessly about the PRI-sponsored fraud. Guillermo Fabela Quiflones of the Mexico City daily El Universal said that “The people know perfectly well that the cause of discontent is the mockery that the voters were subjected to.” For Mexicans fed up with the government’s use of fraud to maintain power, “Michoacan” has become a battle cry for electoral reform. But while protests of this size against electoral fraud are new, the PRI has long found ways to defend its many years of oneparty rule. Since its formation 60 years ago, the PRI has dominated the nation’s government through a tightly-disciplined organization built on patronage and corruption. Since 1929, every Mexican president has been a member of the PRI. In addition, the PRI had never lost a governorship in any of the country’s 31 states during that time, until this summer. It was this summer that the government of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari won widespread praise from foreign governments and the international press for “permitting” Ernesto Ruffo Appel of the to win the recent gubernatorial election in Baja California. Many spoke of a “new birth for Mexican democracy.” By losing in Baja, the PRI had won, said some observers. Meanwhile, the events in Michoacan were largely ignored. But even the PAN was not completely happy with the victory. Party strategist Fernando Estrada says that to win in Baja California, the PAN had to exert an normous effort to monitor the voting and the votecounting process. “Political parties should not be forced to have 200 percent vigilance to assure a political process,” . he said. PAN, a party of business-minded conservatives fed up with the PRI’s history of corruption, has shared many of the PRD’s proposals for electoral reform. Likewise, PRD members were not convinced that Baja California represented a new chapter in Mexican democracy. “It is possible that Baja California is the full quota of democratic elections for this administration,” says Ricardo Pascoe, a spokesman for the PRD. “There is really nothing in the government’s approach toward elections that demonstrates a change from the past.” Rather than allow the novelty of Baja California overshadow the events in Michoacan, PRD activists have maintained a steady campaign to keep the issue on the country’s front pages. Through its public protests and an alliance with the center-right PAN, the question of electoral reform has become a pressing issue. But modifying the country’s electoral system has been done many times in the past. After each round, little real progress has been made; the nation’s elected offices are still overwhelmingly skewed toward the PRI, while stories of electoral fraud have become commonplace. But during the past year, as the stature and popularity of opposition political parties have grown, pressure for electoral reform has built up as well. Following enormous rallies held by opposition parties convinced that Salinas had not legitimately won the presidential election of July 6, 1988, Salinas agreed to a special session of the federal legislature, dedicated solely to electoral reform. The emotions aroused by the July election have yet to die down. At issue in the reform debate, which began on August 28, is who will control the country’s electoral machinery. During the special session, opposition political parties will try to decrease the influence of the executive branch on the electoral bodies while increasing the presence of private individuals and parties. In short, opposition parties are calling for an end to the PRIgovernment relationship. Much of the debate will revolve around the powerful Federal Electoral Commission elections and certifies their results, operates within the Interior Secretariat and is chaired by the interior secretary. Opposition parties say that because the PRI so thoroughly controls the government, the commission cannot impartially judge elections. In addition, because the commission’s make-up is determined by the results of 12 SEPTEMBER 29, 1989