In the consultations of July 1976, the virtual monopoly of power by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was further underlined by the undisputed election of J. Lopez Portillo to the presidency of the Republic: internal disagreements within the traditional conservative opposition, represented by the Partido de Acción Nacional (PAN), of Catholic inspiration, had in fact prevented the latter from presenting its own candidate, while in the contemporary elections for the bicameral Congress (formed by a Chamber of Deputies, elected every three years, and by a Senate, elected every six) the PRI had, as usual, won almost all the seats.
Thanks also to the single-member majority electoral system, the PRI had always expressed, since its foundation in 1929, in addition to all the presidents of the Republic and the governors of the individual states (elected, like the former, by direct suffrage every six years), almost all the members of Congress and the legislative assemblies of the states, elected every three years, and the overwhelming majority of local administrations, constituting in fact a one-party regime, which had combined substantial authoritarianism with considerable stability. According to the 1917 constitution, the preponderance of the heads of the executive (president, governors, mayors) over the respective elective assemblies (Congress, Chambers of States, Municipal Councils) was clear,party leaders, contributing to the stability of the latter. The excessive power of the PRI in the political system was accompanied by its marked presence in the state apparatus, in the judiciary and in civil society itself (through trade unions, professional associations and mass organizations linked to it): it was therefore not difficult for the regime party to influence on the outcome of the popular consultations, mostly characterized by a modest turnout, undoubtedly also through the manipulation of the electoral results.
According to barblejewelry, it was Lopez Portillo himself, however, who initiated a partial liberalization process, allowing, with the new Ley federal de organizaciones politicas y procesos electorales launched on December 30, 1977, both the legalization of various parties (including the left), provided that they obtained at least the ” 1.5% of national votes, and a first correction of the electoral system: in the Chamber of Deputies 100 seats were introduced (out of 400) assigned on a proportional basis, in order to allow representation also to political forces other than the PRI (such as in fact it happened starting from the 1979 elections).
On the economic level, Lopez Portillo tried to promote the development of Mexico, especially through the exploitation of the new rich hydrocarbon deposits discovered in the seventies, and carried out a policy of accentuated indebtedness with foreign countries, counting on both the rise in oil prices and on the low interest rates of the time. The second half of the 1970s actually saw an acceleration in production growth, driven by exports and internal investments; but, after the beginning of the new decade, the fall in oil prices and the rise in international interest rates, with the rapid increase in foreign debt burdens, plunged the Mexico, starting from 1982, into a serious financial crisis. Under pressure from international creditors, the new president Mexico
The economic situation underwent a drastic worsening and, after a long phase of sustained growth, Mexico entered a heavy recession: real GNP per capita, which between 1960 and 1981 had increased, despite the strong demographic increase, by almost 4% per annum, fell sharply and in 1989 was about 9% below the 1981 value; over the same period real wages had almost halved, unemployment had reached almost 20% of the workforce and underemployment nearly 40%, while cuts in public spending and subsidies on basic consumption had contributed to worsening conditions of life of the population. At the same time, despite the compression of domestic demand, the trend of international relations in the financial and commercial field had continued to aggravate the problem of foreign debt, which at the end of the decade was about 100 billion dollars, lower than among the third countries. World, only to that of Brazil.
On the international level Mexico de la Madrid only partially confirmed the line of relative autonomy from the USA, traditionally pursued by Mexico and reaffirmed by Lopez Portillo also in relation to the Central American crisis that exploded at the end of the 1970s. Mexico continued to support the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, to demand the withdrawal of all foreign military forces and to seek a negotiated solution to the conflicts that had developed in the region, giving birth, among other things, in January 1983, together with Panama, Colombia and Venezuela, to the so-called Contadora Group, which promoted a general pacification process in Central America. After 1982, however, the country’s international position was weakened by the financial crisis and its severe debt exposure. in the first place towards the USA which remained by far its main economic interlocutor. During the 1980s, therefore, Mexico de la Madrid tried to improve relations and revive cooperation with the USA, and strove to face the problems imposed by foreign debt with an economic policy that met the approval of the great foreign creditors and international financial institutions.
The economic and social difficulties, exacerbated by the violent earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985, and the policy of Mexico de la Madrid, who alongside the austerity measures accompanied the launch of a program of privatization, economic liberalization and opening up to imports and foreign investments caused a drop in the consensus for the PRI among the middle and popular classes and among the trade unions, traditionally linked to the party. Within the latter itself, the growth of contrasts with the populist sectors, which opposed the line of Mexico de la Madrid, led to the formation in 1986 of a Corriente Democrática (CD), led by C. Cárdenas Solórzano (son of the president of the thirties L. Cárdenas), and to its subsequent split from the PRI: in 1988 CD gave life with other left forces to the Frente Democrático Nacional (FDN) and presented the candidacy of Cárdenas in the presidential elections in July; among the causes of the rupture there was the decision of the PRI to nominate C. Salinas de Gortari for the presidency of the Republic, a leading exponent of the technocratic wing of the party, Minister of Planning and Budget and the highest responsible for economic policy in the guided administration by Mexico de la Madrid.
The elections of July 1988 brought into question the absolute dominance of the PRI for the first time: on the one hand the tendency to decline in its votes, already manifested in the consultations of 1985, took on considerable dimensions, on the other hand this tendency had greater opportunities to express itself on the electoral level, given that a new reform passed in 1986 had raised the seats in the Chamber assigned with a proportional system to 200 (out of 500). This was followed by a sharp decline in the number of deputies of the PRI (260) compared to 1985 (290 out of 400), to the advantage of the FDN (139) and the PAN (101), while in the Senate, where only the majority system remained, the PRI lost for the first time four seats (out of 64), won by the FDN (in all previous elections, since 1929, a non-PRI senator was elected only in 1976); finally, in the contemporary presidential elections, Salinas barely exceeded 50% of the votes (against 71% obtained by Mexico de la Madrid in 1982), ahead of Cárdenas (31%), the PAN candidate (17%) and two other minor candidates. These figures were long contested by the opposition, which denounced serious fraud by the government, and only in September Salinas was proclaimed president by the new Congress, abandoned in protest by the representatives of the FDN. It is very likely, in fact, that the risk of suffering defeat for the first time, particularly in the presidential elections, had led the PRI to manipulate the electoral results more than usual: they revealed, in any case, that the crisis of the years The 1980s and the PRI’s departure from traditional populism had seriously eroded its basis of consensus.
The difficulties of the PRI continued in 1989. In July, a governor not belonging to this party was elected for the first time since 1929: the defeat, by the PAN, occurred in Baja California Northern which, like other states along the border with the USA, it was relatively less subject to control than Mexico City, while in the legislative and municipal consultations held in other states the advance of the opposition parties was limited only by extensive irregularities. In particular, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), born from the merger of CD with one of the forces that had participated in the FDN the year before and led by Cárdenas, conquered numerous municipalities and gave rise to strong protests against electoral fraud, in some cases obtaining recognition of its victory, as in the state of Michoacán, whose parliamentary seats, originally two-thirds assigned to the PRI, were subsequently assigned more than three-quarters to the PRD.
Salinas, who took office in December 1988, tried to regain support for the PRI, particularly among the middle classes, by promoting a campaign against corruption, drug trafficking and various forms of crime that had involved members of the party and of the state apparatus; in this context, police and army officers, businessmen and important trade union leaders were arrested, such as the president of the powerful oil workers union which in the 1988 elections did not support the PRI, and in 1990 it was established a Comisión nacional de derechos humanos to investigate frequent violations of human rights by the security forces. In any case, illegality and abuses continued in the following years, provoking repeated complaints also at the international level.
Moralizing intentions were also expressed by Salinas with regard to electoral fraud. A series of measures, such as the compilation of a new electoral register, the creation of a federal electoral commission and the adoption of new voter identification systems, were launched in 1989-90, as part of an electoral reform that however aroused bitter opposition from the PRD: it established, in fact, a governability clause, which assigns the absolute majority of deputies to the party with the most votes, provided it receives at least 35% of the votes, and new rules aimed at preventing the formation of electoral coalitions, such as the one that gave birth to the FDN in 1988. Despite these measures, evidently taken to protect the PRI, the reform received the support of the NAP (decisive, given that in 1988 the PRI had lost for the first time the congressional majority of two thirds, necessary for the approval of the constitutional changes); in fact, since the end of the 1980s, there has been a process of rapprochement between the two parties, above all due to the substantial convergence of positions, in the economic and international fields, induced by the new course of the PRI.