From 1968, when soldiers massacred several hundred protesting students in the weeks before the Mexico City Olympics, it worked less well. Carlos Salinas, the winner in 1988 in an election many considered fraudulent, saw that the system had to be changed.
Salinas negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement and ordered Televisa to conduct an exit poll to validate the next election. He nonetheless handpicked Colosio and then Zedillo to succeed him.
Zedillo declined to exercise the dedazo, and on election night in 2000, when the PRI candidate claimed fraud, went on television and said, "I recognize that Vicente Fox is the next president of Mexico." That was the end of 71 years of one-party rule.
Six years later, Mexico narrowly avoided a victory by the leftist Lopez Obrador, which would have undoubtedly held back its economy. Now it has better economic growth than the United States, and as former Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda points out, it's a majority middle-class country.
And one with something like a normal politics. The winner in Sunday's election was PRI candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, who got 38 percent of the vote, to 32 percent for AMLO and 25 percent for PAN's Josefina Vasquez Mota.
But Pena will not bring back the old PRI system. He won based on his record as governor of the state of Mexico and his fame as the husband of a telenovela actress.
He has promised to get rid of the law prohibiting Pemex from making contracts with private oil service firms, one of the hallmarks of the old PRI system.
It's not clear whether he'll keep that promise, or whether he'll continue Calderon's aggressive fight against drug traffickers. As for immigration, it appears that the flow of Mexicans to the U.S. has been reversed since 2007.
What is clear is that Mexico has become a neighbor much easier to live with.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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