The Next Step For A New Mexico

The Mexican miracle continues to astonish. An amazing 77% of the people casting ballots voted center or center-right in the recent elections in a powerful reaffirmation of the economic policies of outgoing President Carlos Salinas de Gortari--free trade, privatization, low inflation, and the promise of growth.

But the people of Mexico did more than simply voice support for a continuation of the recent past. They gave the country's governing party a chance to do for the nation's polity what it has already done for its economy--modernize. By giving 27% of the vote to the National Action Party (PAN), which shares the promarket philosophy of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) but is more conservative on social issues, the voters are signaling incoming President Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Len that they want political change.

This is how Zedillo can deliver: The President-elect should set up a government of national unity that includes PAN. He doesn't have to do it, of course. The PRI, with about a 50% majority of the vote, will probably control both houses of Congress. But power-sharing would be of immense benefit both to Zedillo and to Mexico. Never in the 65-year history of PRI rule has it shared political power. Now would be an ideal time to try it.

There are tactical benefits for Zedillo in asking PAN to join his new government. Panistas share his vision of a modern Mexico much more than the PRI's own "dinosaurs," the traditional, old-fashioned bosses of the party. Together with PAN, Zedillo can move to isolate the forces of political reaction within the PRI.

By bringing in PAN, Zedillo can also begin to "secularize" the Mexican government. Just as the Soviet Union was dominated by a Communist Party that held all government offices and, in effect, was the government, so, too, has the PRI been intertwined with Mexico's political apparatus. The result? Vast corruption in the police and judiciary, stymied economic development, and reduced personal freedoms.

Disentangling that relationship between the party and the government is the next step in Mexico's march toward modernity. Politics and the polity have to be separated at birth, with the state emerging as an independent institution beholden to the voters, not just PRI politicians.

A government of national unity that included PAN members in the Cabinet uould be a revolutionary step in that direction. It would give Zedillo tactical room to make alliances against the PRI's Old Guard and would permit Mexico to take the strategic step of putting the law above political connections and the state above politics. It is up to President-elect Zedillo to begin to implement the politics of inclusion.