This article is a contribution to our blog by our volunteer Aída Araceli Patiño Álvarez, PhD candidate at the Faculty of Law at the University of Antwerp. We thank her for this great piece.
The late third wave of democratization, that started after the fall of the Berlin Wall, could be better seen as a success story for the emergence of ‘hybrid regimes’. Within scholars it is widely accepted that most of the late third wave countries have not become well-functioning democracies, instead, it is considered that they have entered the grey zone. Countries in the grey zone are described by Carothers(i) as neither dictatorial nor clearly democratic. They share attributes of democratic political life with democratic deficits.
So, instead of continuing to add adjectives to describe types of democracies that were not thoroughly reputable, countries that that have fallen into the grey zone between open autocracy and liberal democracy can be better called hybrid regimes. The fact that these countries are in the process of democratization gives an idea that they are moving towards more democracy, however it is not always true. To illustrate this point, I will use the concepts developed by reputed scholars in the field of political science to analyse the case of Mexico.
The ‘Mexican democracy’ that can be better portrayed as a hybrid that tends to move towards the opposite side of democracy. Mexico fell under the authoritarian regime of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Revolutionary Institutional Party, PRI), which held power uninterrupted from 1921 until 2000. Since 2000 Mexico is stagnated into the grey zone. It has suffered from feckless pluralism and rapidly moved towards an authoritarian competitive regime.
Mexico’s Feckless Pluralism Period
Feckless pluralism is characterised by some degree of political freedom, regular elections, alternation of power and a somewhat independent judiciary. However, the alternation of power resembles a political transfer between political elites which are perceived as corrupt, self-interested, ineffective and profoundly cut off from the citizenry.
These characteristics can be found in Mexico after the 2000 elections. Undoubtedly, these were the first free and fair elections in the recent political history of Mexico. The Mexican people witnessed for the first time an alternation in power. The Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, PAN) assumed the presidency of the Republic. The alternation (which was not such) lasted two ‘sexenios’ (six-year presidential period).
The fist PAN government under Vicente Fox failed to achieve Mexico’s post-PRI political transformation. Instead, his presidency was marked by stagnation with some regressive tendencies, such as persistent actions to ban the left-wing candidate from winning the presidency in 2006, the support (using public resources) to the PAN presidential candidacy, suspicion of cronyism surrounding the election of electoral administrative authorities and corruption.
More Murder in the Middle
In 2006, Mexico entered a new stage marked by electoral fraud and a spiral of violence that continues until the moment I write these lines. After formal claims of electoral fraud, Felipe Calderón (PAN) was declared President by the Electoral Tribunal. Early in his mandate,Calderón declared the war against the drugs cartels that has caused a humanitarian crisis that has reached unprecedent proportions in Mexico.
Scholars have pointed out that hybrid regimes are more prone to violate human rights. The so called ‘More Murder in the Middle’ argument claims that the ends of the political spectrum (full democracy and full autocracy) are less important for understanding human rights violations than those governments that lie between these two extremes. Unfortunately, the Mexican case illustrates this point remarkably well.
Homicides doubled from 60,162 during the government of Fox to 121,613 during the presidency of Calderón(ii). Forced or involuntary disappearances increased substantially from 642 cases in 2007 to 33,478 cases of disappearances acknowledged by the current government(iii). Additionally, from 2000 to 2017, more than 100 journalists have been killed not to mention the fact that 23 journalists disappeared from 2003 to 2015(iv).
Mexico’s Competitive Authoritarian Regime Period
In 2012, Calderón concluded his mandate amid unprecedent levels of violence and transferred power to the PRI. Once again, the 2012 elections were marked by legal claims of electoral fraud before the Electoral Court. Once again, it was the Electoral Court that stated the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. As a result, Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) is currently ruling the country. His presidency has been marked not only by an escalation of violence (2017 was the most violent year in Mexico in 20 years) but also by corruption and impunity.
During the presidency of Peña Mexico moved towards a competitive authoritarian regime. These regimes are competitive because opposition parties use democratic institutions to contest seriously for power but are authoritarian because the playing field is heavily tilted in favour of incumbents(v). The line between the state and the ruling party is blurred. The main assets of the state are gradually put in the direct service of the ruling party. In this way these regimes offer few prospects for alternation of power in the foreseeable future.
In the last elections for the position of Governor in the State of Mexico (2016) the ruling party used state resources to buy, inhibit and coerce the vote. That is, the PRI abused its position as a party in power to obtain resources that would allow it to win – fraudulently – the election and thereby close the way to any other option that legitimately seeks to compete for the vote of citizens. The line between the state and the ruling party is blurred. The main assets of the state are being gradually put in the direct service of the ruling party which prevents to have free and fair elections.
To understand why hybrid regimes, remain stagnant in the grey zone, it is important not to call them semi-democracies or countries in the process of democratization. This gives a false idea that these countries are on the way to a more democratic regime when the opposite might be occurring. Political syndromes in hybrid regimes have clearly to be identified to allow their citizens to understand their reality and to deploy strategies to leave the grey zone.
In July of this year, Mexico will hold elections to choose the President of the Republic, 128 senators and 500 federal deputies, as well as local authorities. A certain degree of nervousness within the political class has become evident. The pragmatism adopted by the political parties has led to implausible political alliances that generate amazement and distrust. The only sensible proposal seems to be that of the Zapatista movement and the National Indigenous Congress that decided to launch an indigenous woman to participate as an independent candidate for the Presidency of the Republic.
In this context, I think it is important to state clearly that Mexico is not a democracy nor is it a semi-democratic regime. Mexico is a hybrid regime under the form of a competitive authoritarian regime. Additionally, I would like to raise awareness about the latent possibility that this year’s elections will be ‘State elections’ with loaded dice against the willing of the Mexican people.
i See Carothers, T. (2002). The end of the Transition Paradigm. Journal of Democracy, 13(1), 5–21
ii See ‘Consulta de: Defunciones por homicidio’, Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía at
iii See the National Registry Data of Missing or Disappeared Persons data is available at
iv See Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos. (2018). Informe de actividades del 1 de enero al 31 de
diciembre de 2017. Mexico City, p. 128 available (only in Spanish) at
See also –
Periodistas asesinados en México (Journalists killed in Mexico) available at
La desaparición y desaparición forzada de quienes ejercen la libertad de expresión en México available at
v See Levitsky, S., & Way, L. A. (2010). Competitive Authoritarianism. Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War. New York: Cambridge University Press.