Few women and indigenous people rise to senior positions. This reflects discrimination typical of Mexican society. As well as gender-based prejudice, Mexican society still discriminates between mestizos ('mixed race' people with European and indigenous ancestors) and indígenas (the original Americans). The latter are regarded by many mestizos as racially inferior.
The massive party apparatus and the nationalisation of certain industries and of land may appear similar to the situation in the Soviet Union, but private ownership of property never disappeared in Mexico. The land reforms (in particular in the 1930s under Pres. Cárdenas), which returned much land to the peasants working it - in the form of ejidos (collectives) - did not break the power of local landlords (caciques). Recent 'reform' of the Constitution has allowed for further privatisation of land. The fortunes of trade unions have varied under different presidents, but a double policy of restrictive labour law and selective inclusion of labour organisations in the political establishment has been constant.
The United Mexican States, as Mexico is officially called, is a federal republic consisting of 31 states and the Federal District of Mexico City. Executive power is in the hands of the President, who is elected every six years by adult citizens, and the Cabinet s/he appoints. The National Congress (parliament) consists of a Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
The 500 deputies of the Chamber are elected for 3 year term; the 128 Senators for a 6 year term. Each state has its own constitution, and is administered by a governor elected for 6 years and Chamber of Deputies.
Elections are, however, anything but free and fair. The power of local PRI officials in all aspects of economic activity ensures a certain degree of support from voters 'repaying debts'. Fraud is also widespread. In 1988, the government's presidential candidate looked set to lose to opposition candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas (PRD) ... until the computers 'broke down' in the middle of the count. International human rights groups such as Amnesty International have documented many cases of intimidation of voters and opposition activists.
Violence as a political tool ...
Political assassinations are frequent, torture and detention without trial commonplace. Difficult opposition at home, such as the students in 1968, has been - literally - murdered. The use of violence as a political tool also occurs within the ruling elite: the murder of PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994 is generally attributed to others in the tension-ridden party.
Despite this political climate, there are two main opposition parties: the centre-left Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), which is at present in decline, and the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional (PAN - National Action Party, based in the richer North),which is gaining ground. While both oppose the government, they do so from different perspectives, and it is the local activists of the PRD who are more likely to be targeted by the army, police or private para-military groups.