The one-party dominance by the PRI lasted for over 70 years and stands for one of the most enduring autocratic regimes in 20th century. While scholars disagree on the causes for the fall of the dominant party during the “perfect dictatorship” (compare Olney 2002, Harvey and Serrano 1994 and Rivera 2008) they mainly agree on a shifting trend away from an autocratic regime structure towards a more democratic, multi-party system (for a critique see Olney 2002). Interestingly, the term “democracy” has been avoided by all scholars which my sources referring to, although they point out that the PRI was able to represent the main social cleavages within the Mexican society with the help of corporatism, clientelism, factionalism and elite consensus (see Olney 2002, Klesner 1997 and Rievera 2008). Therefore it is reasonable to question if the PRI’s “perfect dictatorship” can be summarized as non- democratic. According to Lipset and Rokkan 1967, the evolution of the western political party systems has their origin along social cleavages. Thus, we can explain why a certain party emerges and how a party system becomes multi-polar or remains uni-polar. Moreover, we are able to identify a polarized party-system and therefore evaluate the democratic quality of a political system (as long as we define “democratic” along variables such as quality of political representation, free and fair elections, plurality and individual freedom). Hence we can develop the hypotheses that whether the PRI dominance led truly to an undemocratic regime and lacked democratic elements or that it led instead to a democratic regime (or at least to a certain degree) due to the fact that the party took over the social cleavages within the Mexican society. Indeed, this is only one approach to evaluate the PRI dominance and is tightly intertwined with the social cleavage theory of Seymour M. Lipset (see Lipset 1967). While other political scientists, i.e. those who are concerned with the subject of modernization and democratization, such as Samuel P. Huntington only look at the institutional condition, I will stick to Lipset’s thesis that the party-system and its quality is an important measurement in order to evaluate the democratic condition of a country.
In order to structure the above mentioned facts and hypotheses, I will try to answer the following set of questions in this paper:
How can the PRI dominance be explained with the help of social cleavages? Why has been a transformation within the party-system occurred and how did this affect the political system? How can we evaluate and rate the current Mexican party-system? Which party-system tended to be more democratic: The one-party or the multi-party system? And last but not least: Can we make any general statements about the social cleavages in Mexico and how they might affect the political future of the party-system?
In order to answer these questions I have structured my paper in four coherent points: First, I will briefly present the social cleavage theory of Lipset and Rokkan and how I am going to use it as measurement in order to evaluate and analyze the following chapters. While dealing with this theory is essential for my later conclusion and result I am not able to go into details due to the length of this paper. Second, I will review the main reasons why the PRI dominance lasted so long as well as trying to identify which cleavages are represented by the PRI during this time. Third, I will review the shift of the party-system and the political system which occurred in the after the 1988 elections within the framework of the passive as well as active oppositional effort to represent certain social cleavages abandoned by the PRI. Fourth and lastly, I will summarize the three chapters and develop a conclusion on the question which party-system tend to be more democratic. Moreover, I will look at certain general conclusions in order to make a prediction.
2. The evolution of a party system from a theoretical perspective
The evolution of a party-system as well as its parties is caused due to four main social cleavages. Additionally, the four social cleavages are linked to four matching processes of modernization. Following Laut Lipset und Rokkan those are (compare Lipset 1967, p.47):
1. Center - Periphery comes with the modernization process of state-, institution- and nation- building. It is basically linked to the issue of national vs. supranational religion.
2. State - Church and the issue of secular vs. religious control of mass education.
3. Land - Industry and the issue of tariff levels for agricultural products; control vs. freedom of industrial enterprise and the basic modernization process of urbanisation.
4. Owner - worker and the issue of integration into national polity vs. commitment to international revolutionary movement.
In summary, the first social cleavage represents the evolution of regional and ethnic parties. The second cleavage represents parties which are whether against or in favour for a statelaicism. Along the third cleavage emerge civic parties or liberal parties which are whether for a free trade economy or agricultural, protective economy interests. The fourth and final social cleavage after Lipset explains the evolution of mercantilistic parties against social democratic, socialistic or communistic parties.
In the next chapter, I will try to link the established social cleavages with a brief historical review of the PRI’s one-party dominance. Eventually, I can discover more cleavages or even abandon one.