For many years, most people who studied post-World War II Mexican politics tended to accept the government line that Mexico was democratic, or at least in transition to democracy. Charges of electoral fraud by opposition parties were dismissed as sour grapes. The infatuation with the accomplishments and sheer power of the Mexican government and its political party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI, made it difficult to see Mexican elections objectively. Few observers doubted that the government/PRI chose its candidates in an undemocratic manner or that it cheated at times. The belief that the government/PRI had successfully transformed the nation into a more socially just and modern society was so strong, however, that electoral fraud was thought to be largely unnecessary.
The government’s repression of the student movement of 1968 changed perceptions. Intellectuals and children of the elite were subjected to the same brutal treatment that political opposition groups so often encountered. The government, moreover, had to allow a little more openness to recover from the backlash to its overreaction in 1968. Criticism of electoral practices became more common. Two decades later, when the government/PRI presidential candidate was declared the victor under what were, at best, dubious circumstances, electoral fraud could no longer be ignored.
Jorge Alonso’s book is one result of the changed perceptions of Mexican politics. He openly examines electoral politics in the state of Jalisco and finds abundant evidence of systematic fraud. In two lengthy essays, “La aspiración democrática: las elecciones jaliscienses de 1940 a 1988” and “Auge priista en las elecciones federales de 1991 y descalabro electoral en las locales de 1992,” he explains voting and the roles of political parties and groups in the state’s municipal, legislative, gubernatorial, and federal elections. Readers will benefit from the valuable historical and electoral data he provides, for few “micro” data of this sort have appeared before.
Alonso demonstrates that Jalisco has a long history of ballot fraud, intimidation, and repression of opposition parties and groups, in which changes in electoral laws and splits in the PRI have made little difference. Voting statistics have rarely reflected what actually occurred. For example, when the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) has mounted a strong electoral campaign, voter abstentionism (as reported in the official results) amazingly has increased, an obvious indicator that the official results have been doctored.
One of the study’s most important findings is that local electoral fights have more to do with specific people and personalities than with ideology or parties. Authoritarian government is the enemy. Jaliscans want peaceful, democratic elections, but they have been forced into electoral revolt by the government/PRI, whether it uses the former “old corporativist” or the current “new corporativist” model. Because PAN has most consistently been the organized opposition, it benefits, thus giving Jalisco a propensity for bipartisan politics.
Students of Mexican politics should read and reflect on this work. It provides useful insights into how politics really work in Mexico.