The reasons that Mexicans are willing to take such a bet after their long march from authoritarianism are contradictory. Some believe the party, with its youthful candidate, has changed; some don't believe in any political class but think the PRI is the best that they've got.
But most Mexicans appear willing to trust their democracy: They might not be sure what the PRI will do once it's in office again, but they do believe that in the 12 years since it has been out, society has changed in dramatic ways. The president no longer holds vast powers. With the opening of its economy, Mexico has also had to open its political system. And from a stronger federal electoral institute to the presence of influential civil society organizations, there is no way the party can get up to its old antics, they say.
“You have more counterbalances,”says Maureen Meyer, Mexico analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. “You have a civil society that has been building its influence. You have stronger political parties in general.”
The PRI “won’t be able to go back to business as usual,” she adds.
One of the biggest sources of power for the PRI came from its ability to control the vote. In 1988, the party was widely accused of having rigged the elections, after a leftist candidate was coming out front. But in the wake of the outcry the government began the process of overhauling its electoral system, reforms that were strengthened throughout the 90s. By the time the PRI lost in 2000 for the first time, Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) was considered one of the world's best.
The confidence in the electoral body was tested after Mexico's last presidential election in 2006, when Mr. Lopez Obrador, in his first presidential bid, declared fraud and refused to recognize election results, after losing the race by less than a percentage point. And the feeling that the election was “stolen” is still strong among Lopez Obrador's supporters.