For more than 70 years, beginning in 1929, one party—the Party of Institutional Revolution, known by its Spanish initials PRI—dominated political life in Mexico at all levels of government. But when Vicente Fox, a candidate of the rival National Action Party (PAN) won the presidency in 2000, change rippled through the country's overall political structure. This case tells the story of the emergence of competitive elections at the municipal level—in particular, one municipality emblematic of larger change. In describing the change in political life in Chignahuapan, a jurisdiction of some 50,000 in the Sierra Norte mountains northeast of Mexico City, the case frames the question of whether electoral change can lead to sustainable reform of local government. It is a question which arises when, surprisingly, a reform-minded PAN administration gains power in the locality in February 2002 and proceeds both to change administrative processes (opening meetings of the local Council for the first time) and move generally toward transparency and improved local services. The reform administration was, however, limited by law to just one term, thus posing the central question of the case: in what ways can a reform administration seek to ensure that the changes it initiates will not be transitory?
The case is useful in raising the question of how innovation can be sustained in the face of interest group hostility. It can serve, too, as a window into the development of local political life as decentralization of power becomes meaningful.