Mexico: What accounts for the durability of the PRI system, which lasted from 1929 to 2000? Under that system, each president served just one six-year term and in his sixth year chose his successor, who became the PRI candidate. The nominee was said to have been chosen by dedazo, by his predecessor's finger. Why did this system last so long? Because, I think, it was in sync with the Aztec side of Mexico's part-European, part-Mesoamerican culture. In three ways:
- It employed great ceremony. In election years the PRI candidate would travel the country and make ceremonial appearances in every state and dozens of cities and towns. Everywhere he appeared would be decorated with paintings of the three colors of Mexico's flag (which were also the colors of the PRI) with his name in bold letters. I remember seeing "Colosio" plastered over small towns in Guerrero even after the murder of the PRI candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in March 1994.
- It had calendrical regularity. Every president served six years; every president seemed to have bad luck in his sixth year, the sexenio.
- It had elements of human sacrifice. The president, after having exercised full powers of government for six years, disappeared from public life. If he tried to stay active in politics, his successor made sure he got out of town (Plutarco Calles, one of the architects of the PRI system, was told by his successor, Lázaro Cárdenas, to leave the country; he died in San Diego). He was blamed for all the problems he failed to solve and all the corruption that became apparent once he left office.
Eventually, the system could not survive. Starting in 1982, PRI presidents chose as their successors técnicos, professional men with degrees from prestigious American universities, with little history of PRI politics: Miguel de la Madrid, Carlos Salinas, Luis Donaldo Colosio, and, after his death, Ernest Zedillo. Salinas and Zedillo put into place reforms that have made Mexico's elections fair and exemplary; Zedillo ostentatiously refused to put his dedazo on anyone and allowed PRI to hold a primary to determine its nominee in 1999. Interestingly, the two PRI nominees since, Francisco Labastida and Roberto Madrazo, have been political veterans, and both lost, with Madrazo finishing in third place with only 22 percent of the vote.
Canada: Like the PRI, the Liberal Party has claims on being the only true national party; the Liberals over most of Canadian history have been able to win votes both in Francophone Quebec and in the nine (since 1949, when Newfoundland was absorbed into Canada) Anglophone provinces. But in recent decades the Liberals' ability to win across the nation has become frayed. Brian Mulroney of the now defunct and historically Anglophone Progressive Conservative Party was able to carry his native Quebec as well as the rest of the country in the 1980s. The Liberals came back in 1993, buoyed by big margins in Ontario. But this year's election saw great regional splits. The Liberals carried the subsidy-hungry Maritimes but in Quebec were able to win only a few Anglophone seats in the Montreal area; the Bloc Quebecois won most of the rest, although the Conservatives won a few more seats there than anyone had anticipated. The Conservatives swept oil-rich Alberta and won big margins in the prairie provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan. British Columbia was a three-way race between the leftist New Democrats, the Liberals, and the Conservatives. Only in Ontario, and especially in metro Toronto, did the Liberals do well.