by Dr. Rebecca Jones, Associate Professor of Political Science at Widener University
When most Americans think of political change, they think of elections and the peaceful transfer of power from one president or prime minister and political party to another. In many other parts of the world, political change is not a regular occurrence and can be destabilizing at best and violent at worst. The political change we are currently seeing in countries such as Libya, Egypt, and Syria exemplifies the worst. Violence, government oppression of opposition groups, and the loss of social order are the outcomes of the collapse of a political structure.
In other instances of political transition we have seen relatively mild reactions to change. When the communist systems in Eastern Europe broke down, the transition to a different form of government was relatively painless and violence free. In fact, the transition in what was then Czechoslovakia was called the "Velvet Revolution" for the smooth nature of the transition. Other countries in that region also experienced relatively smooth and peaceful transitions.
In 2000, Mexico was on the verge of a political transition that would prove just as important to its future. In the presidential election that year, Vicente Fox, running as the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional – PAN) candidate, won the election with 43 percent of the vote, becoming the first opposition candidate in 71 years to defeat the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI ).
What did this election mean for Mexico? Political scientists speak of a "two-turnover" test to determine if a country can be labeled as democratic. First, one party must win a democratic election, and then it must turn over its power to another party sometime in the future. For 71 years, using a combination of patronage tactics and explicit vote rigging, PRI held the presidency of Mexico. This meant that they controlled a majority of power in Mexico's federal system since the Mexican president has almost no checks on his power. The election of Fox changed that overnight. In the eyes of international analysts and observers, the election of Fox marked the transition from a one-party, semi-authoritarian political system to a democratic political system. Fox's election was the first peaceful transfer of power from an incumbent president to the opposition party in the history of Mexico.
Since he retired, Fox has continued to participate in global affairs through the Global Leadership Foundation and the Centrist Democrat International. More than many politicians, Fox truly represented change for Mexico. As the first president who was not a member of PRI, Fox almost single-handedly turned Mexico from a single-party-dominated political system to a true multi-party system. During his six-year term, Fox opened up the political system of Mexico, created a more transparent government, and allowed it to become more truly representative of all Mexican citizens.
Reach Professor Jones at: email@example.com.