PRI Rule Ends in Mexico Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Vicente Fox became the first non-Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate to be elected president of Mexico. His populist appeal to Mexican voters carried him into office.

Summary of Event

The political landscape of Mexico underwent a significant change at the end of the twentieth century. This transformation started with the negotiated electoral reformations legislated and agreed to by the major political parties in Mexico in 1987, 1990, 1993, 1994, and 1996. Together, these political reforms revolutionized the electoral process and the legal mechanisms necessary to ensure absolute fairness in congressional and presidential elections. These reforms, which were fully adopted and implemented by 1996, led to what some analysts characterize as an electoral revolution in Mexico. Mexico;government Institutional Revolutionary Party (Mexico) Political parties;Mexico [kw]PRI Rule Ends in Mexico (July 2, 2000) [kw]Mexico, PRI Rule Ends in (July 2, 2000) Mexico;government Institutional Revolutionary Party (Mexico) Political parties;Mexico [g]North America;July 2, 2000: PRI Rule Ends in Mexico[10740] [g]Mexico;July 2, 2000: PRI Rule Ends in Mexico[10740] [c]Government and politics;July 2, 2000: PRI Rule Ends in Mexico[10740] Fox, Vicente Cárdenas, Cuauhtémoc Labastida, Francisco Zedillo, Ernesto

Important highlights of these reforms included the following: an updated and dependable voter registry; new voter lists containing individual photographs of eligible voters, who numbered more than fifty-eight million in the year 2000; new, technically sophisticated voter registration cards, which became the primary means of personal identification in Mexico; updated procedures for selecting polling-station personnel; see-through ballot boxes to curb fraudulent ballot stuffing, previously a common practice of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI); forge-proof watermarks on the ballots themselves to avoid counterfeiting; and appointment of a special attorney to prosecute electoral offenses that violate the penal code.

In addition, the electoral reforms emphasized the institution of checks and balances with policies that were both visible and legally enforceable. In particular, the electoral reforms that were initiated in 1987 created three important checks to ascertain that the voting process was fair and legal. The first was the creation of an independent election commission called the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), whose responsibility is to organize national elections. This commission was organized in 1990 and is a permanent and independent agency. Since 1996, the IFE’s executive and administrative body, the General Council, has been composed of nine independent officials selected by agreement of the three major political parties represented in the Mexican Congress. Although officials of this commission conflicted with the PRI after the 1997 midterm elections, they still enjoyed the full confidence of the principal opposition political parties. The second legal check was the institution of the Federal Election Tribunal, an impartial and independent commission set up to resolve conflicts arising from perceived or documented voting irregularities and to officially certify congressional and presidential election results. The commission makes the final decision on electoral conflicts, even local ones. The third legal check was the establishment of a commission, made up of representatives from all major parties represented in the Congress, whose purpose is to closely monitor the electoral process in its entirety. In sum, the circumstances that in the past had allowed for electoral fraud were virtually eliminated with the creation of these legal checks.

Following the passage of these comprehensive electoral reforms, the July, 2000, Mexican presidential campaign was initiated. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, leader of the left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), had recently been elected mayor of Mexico City and thus had the political momentum to capture the presidency. Vicente Fox, a member of the conservative National Action Party National Action Party (Mexico) (PAN) and governor of the state of Guanajuato, had decided in 1997 to run for the presidency. Knowing that a division between the main opposition parties would favor the PRI, both Cárdenas and Fox attempted to form a political coalition. However, this alliance was not successful because the candidates were unable to decide who would run for the presidency. Thus, Cárdenas and Fox represented their individual parties in their campaigns for the presidency. Several other candidates representing minor political parties also campaigned. President Ernesto Zedillo had refused to nominate his successor, as was customary within the PRI hierarchy. Francisco Labastida, a former minister of the interior, won the PRI primary and campaigned for the presidency.

Because there were two main opposition candidates running against the PRI, opposition voters would have to decide which of the two would have a better opportunity to defeat Labastida. Fox had the political advantage because he had started his campaign much earlier than all the other candidates. Also, Fox appeared more confident and capable in his campaign rhetoric, and he consistently utilized public polls to demonstrate that he was much more capable of defeating Labastida at the polls, pointing out the weaknesses of Cárdenas. Finally, opposition voters recognized that Fox was tied with Labastida at the polls and resolved to vote for him.

Vicente Fox waves to supporters after his electoral victory.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Despite their public debates, the three candidates seemed to agree on the achievement of common goals, such as combating crime and corruption, as part of their proposed reforms if elected to the presidency. In particular, Labastida tried to present the PRI as a “new” party and attempted, unsuccessfully, to separate his new party from the old PRI. Cárdenas presented himself as a leader for the poor and underrepresented sector of the population. Fox focused his campaign on reducing poverty, increasing economic growth, radically reforming the existing social programs, and improving educational opportunities for Mexicans. Fox also promised that he would appoint a cabinet that would include representatives of the three major parties of the country.

The electoral reforms, particularly those advocated by Zedillo in 1996, helped greatly to ensure a fair election in 2000, especially since access to financial resources was equal for all parties and there was oversight of the electoral process. The IFE consistently monitored the news media to ensure objectivity and made certain that all the contending political parties received equal air time.

On Sunday, July 2, 2000, Fox was elected president, having garnered 47 percent of the popular vote, with only 22 percent of the votes counted. Labastida had obtained only 32 percent of the popular vote.


Since 1929, Mexico was under the domination of one political party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, following the Mexican Revolution. For a period of seventy-one years, the PRI ruled the country, having no prescribed checks and balances or oversight mechanisms to ensure fair elections in the country. The party was known for its corrupt practices: blatant electoral fraud, the expulsion of opposition party representatives from polling stations, rampant nepotism, incarceration of critics of its policies, stifling of freedom of the press, and torture, kidnappings, and assassinations of individuals who openly criticized or opposed party policies and representatives. The election of Vicente Fox was historic because it ended the one-party domination and because it initiated a period of fair elections. Although the election was competitive and heated, it was perceived as the fairest in Mexican history. Mexico;government Institutional Revolutionary Party (Mexico) Political parties;Mexico

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Camp, Roderic Ai. Politics in Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Summarizes in great detail the political history of Mexico, focusing on contemporary society and the electoral reforms.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dominguez, Jorge I., and Alejandro Poiré, eds. Towards Mexico’s Democratization: Parties, Campaigns, Elections, and Public Opinion. New York: Routledge, 1999. Provides a detailed account of the electoral reforms in Mexico from 1987 to 1996.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shirk, David. Mexico’s New Politics: The PAN and Democratic Change. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2005. Presents a comprehensive overview of the PAN political policies and discusses changes in democracy instituted by the party.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vanden, Harry E., and Gary Prevost. Politics of Latin America: The Power Game. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. Provides a panoramic overview of Latin American culture focusing on family, society, gender, religion, and politics.

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Categories: History