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1.22.2010

Constitutional Overhaul in Mexico?



In 2010, most Latin American countries celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the start of their wars of independence from Spain. Mexico, in addition, celebrates the centennial anniversary of its social revolution. In part because “we cannot afford to waste this year’s symbolic political energy” (words of the Secretary of the Interior), and in part to divert the attention from the war on drugs, Mexican President Felipe Calderón has launched a “Decalogue” of political reforms to update the rules of the political game for the young Mexican democracy. According to the government’s proposal, the reforms have two main objectives: to facilitate the coordination among branches of government and to bring the citizens closer to the political system. The reforms include establishing the possibility of reelection, for up to twelve years, of local officials and legislators at the state and federal levels; giving a certain number of citizens the power to propose legislative initiatives; strengthening the Executive’s veto and legislative initiative; establishing a run-off election for the Presidency; and giving to the Supreme Court the power to present legislative initiatives in matters related to the judiciary.

This is not the first time that Mexican politicians propose a “structural reform” of the political system. In fact, since the administration of President Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) proposals from different parties have been at the table. But after much discussion, at the end nothing happens. Because these political reforms imply constitutional amendments, the consensus needed to accomplish them (supermajorities in both legislative chambers and approval from a majority of state legislatures) has fallen short in many occasions. For years, the opposing political forces have agreed to reform mainly the electoral system successfully leveling the playing field in a series of reforms that, spanning the last thirty years of the last century, ended up with the defeat of the PRI in the 2000 presidential election. The first non-PRIísta president, however, inherited a constitutional framework self-made by the hegemonic party that governed the country without interruptions for seventy years.

It is not clear if the political rules of the game will be transformed this time. For some, given the fragmentation of the political system and the uncertainty over the electoral results of the next presidential election in 2012, only the reforms that distribute power and reduce the stakes of winning and losing have a real chance to pass. For others, different calculations by the political parties will play an important role. For instance, for the first time since 2000 there is a PRIísta pre-candidate that has real chances of winning back the presidency. Will this expectation be sufficient to motivate the PRI to strengthen the legislative powers of the president? How would the current executive and his party, the PAN, react to this calculus? I will keep track of the reform process and post the news in our blog.

JRF




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