Though Mexico has held regular elections for most of the past century, few have done anything notable for the concept of democracy. But Sunday's national voting for president and legislature was a rare exception - an almost spotless ballot that threw out a ruling party which had dominated politics for 71 years, all too often by corruption and cronyism. The result, in the words of president-elect Vicente Fox, is 'a revolution in hope' for ordinary Mexicans who have gained little from the country's rapid growth. The economy has expanded by five per cent or more in recent years, and those in the top 10 per cent income bracket have seen their share increase steadily. But those in the bottom 60 per cent have known the opposite, with real earnings on a continual decline. Although the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, carried out several half-hearted reforms over the past decade, the nation's social fabric has also been in jeopardy. Crime has soared, with police frequently moonlighting as robbers. So-called 'narco-politicians' have grown wealthy from a drugs trade they are supposed to suppress. The education system is woefully inadequate, while poverty has driven millions of rural Mexicans into the cities or across the border to America. It became obvious serious repairs were needed. And because of some reforms the PRI did implement fairly, to its credit, a truly honest national election became possible for the first time. Given the chance, the public voted for change. But their choice offers a useful lesson for other developing countries with social problems. Mexicans did not choose a rabble-rousing populist who promised the moon; instead, they elected a wealthy rancher and former Coca-Cola executive who promised a more honest government, starting with reforms of a corrupt judicial system and police force. He also vowed to liberalise the economy faster and create new jobs more rapidly. The leading left-winger finished a distant third. This suggests that people will make careful judgments when given real options, and should be trusted more than feared. Asian and other autocrats generally resist such thoughts, claiming they alone have the commitment needed to ensure good government. Unfortunately, that can lead to holding power for its own sake or for looting the public till. The PRI followed that route. What Mexican voters did on Sunday proves once again that democracy, for all its weaknesses, remains the best system yet devised for displacing those who mainly serve themselves.