The Mexican Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI; Institutional Revolutionary Party) was one of the most resilient autocrats in the world, holding office uninterruptedly for seventy years. Unlike single parties in most of Africa and the former Soviet bloc, the PRI stayed in power without constitutionally banning opposition parties or employing systematic repression. If we were to take Przeworski's dictum that “democracy is a system in which parties lose elections” (1991: 10), Mexico can unquestionably not be classified as democratic until 2000, when the PRI lost the presidency. Thus, from the onset of the democratization wave that swept the Latin American region starting in 1980, it took Mexico more than twenty years to democratize.
Why was the PRI so resilient? What accounts for its ultimate demise? In this chapter, I emphasize three sources of the PRI's capacity to survive: (a) the party's relative immunity to elite splitting; (b) the authoritarian nature of electoral institutions; and (c) the party's massive electoral support. I then explore how each of these pillars of the PRI regime was transformed, eventually leading to the establishment of democracy.
The chapter starts by placing the Mexican transition in comparative perspective. The democratization dynamics of one-party-dominant systems is different from other regime transitions. In transitions from military regimes and personal dictators, the main challenge the opposition faces is the threat of coercion.