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The No Re-election Taboo is Lifted in Mexico

In the midst of a heated national debate on political reform, December 4 marked a milestone in Mexico’s electoral politics, as the upper house of Congress voted on legislation modifying 29 articles in the country’s constitution to allow consecutive re-election for mayoral and legislative positions.

Re-election will go into effect in 2018, and will allow mayors to run for two consecutive terms, while legislators can run for the same position for up to 12 years—though they’re required to run under the same political party they originally ran under. (This raises a number of questions regarding officials running under flimsy party alliances, which come and go faster than the seasons.) The president of Mexico and the mayor of Mexico City will be limited to serving one six-year term, however.

One of Mexico’s most ingrained mottos, born during the Revolution, has been “Effective Suffrage; No Re-election.” Back then, it was understandable that the country would unite under such a slogan, as the revolutionary objective was to overthrow Porfírio Diaz’ 31- year presidential tenure (with only one four-year break from 1880 to 1884).

Since then, however, political life in Mexico has evolved in ways in which allowing re-election could be positive.

On the one hand, the electoral framework has advanced enormously since the revolution. While the Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Elections Institute—IFE) still has a lot of room for improvement and electoral fraud is far from extinct, the Mexican political system and its institutions guarantee that free elections will take place.

As part of the political reform, IFE will actually evolve into a new institute, the Insituto Nacional de Elecciones (National Elections Institute—INE), which promises to reduce local electoral institutes’ power and supposedly bring training and electoral logistics together under one roof.

That’s apparently the positive side of the story.

The other thing to consider is that elected officials often enjoy a level of impunity that almost invites them to use any number of means at their disposal to fatten their wallets. While print media is relatively effective in denouncing these abuses, a crooked politician rarely ends up behind bars.

Politicians also have little accountability in delivering on promises and providing results. Since there is one shot at a given position, once elected, many try to get as much personal benefit while in office as possible.

The possibility of getting re-elected could change that, becoming an incentive for incumbents to run based on a proven track record of results.

Yet while re-election is a step in the right direction, there are still a number of decisions that need to be addressed for the will of the people to be truly represented in Mexico’s political arena.

Chief among them is the elimination of “plurinominal” legislators, which only serve political party interests and generate an unnecessary and quite expensive payroll in Congress. Plurinominales are legislators who are not directly elected by voters but assigned to lists created by political parties. The number of people who make it from the lists to actual seats in Congress is determined by the proportion of votes the parties receive during elections.

If directly-elected legislators don’t normally feel accountable to the people in their states and districts who voted for them (since they don’t vote according to  their constituents’ interests, but by party bloc), it appears that plurinominal representatives are lucky politicians awarded what some might view as highly-paid vacations in office (senators, for example, are paid close to 150,000 pesos a month—roughly $11,700).

For a number of years now, Pedro Ferriz de Con, one of Mexico’s most influential journalists, has been a leading voice against plurinominales through something he calls “the Revolution of Intellect,” and has collected more than 7 million signatures from Mexicans supporting his fight to eliminate these public figures—but to no avail. Once again, legislators currently debating the political reform have agreed to sidetrack the issue because it does not serve their parties’ interests—and that is not only a missed opportunity, but also another broken promise from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s electoral platform.

The other missed opportunity in the political reform debate is the implementation of a run-off election process—at the very least, at a federal level. I’ve written about this and the reasons to consider this process in the past.

It seems counterintuitive that you need a majority for decisions to pass through Congress but not for a person to be elected president.  Since the IFE was created, there has not been a single president of Mexico elected by  the majority of the citizens he/she leads. There is simply no valid argument to maintain the status quo.

In conclusion: re-election, good. Comprehensive political reform? Not really.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Mexico, Mexican Elections, election reform

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