Yesterday’s mid-term legislative elections in Mexico—where 500 federal deputies, six governors and city mayors in a number of municipalities were up for grabs—had one clear result: President Felipe Calderón and his party (National Action Party – PAN) lost influence. This was welcome news for the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) old and new guard.
Preliminary results show that the PRI, along with their allies for nine years, the Green Party, will have an absolute majority. Together, they will likely hold around 252 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. Calderón’s party is expected to keep around 146 seats, and the rest will be divided among the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and smaller parties.
Governor races confirm this trend. At least three of the six states will go to the PRI.
And as is typical in mid-term contests, estimates indicate that only 40 percent of the 76 million Mexicans eligible to vote actually went to the polls. Early results also show that the null vote increased from previous elections, reaching an estimated 6.5 percent.
For the first time in Mexico’s modern history there will be a truly divided government—both the Chamber of Deputies and Senate will have a PRI majority and the executive branch is in the hands of the PAN. The closest that the Mexican government has come to such a division was in the late 1990s when the opposition controlled the Chamber of Deputies.
A divided government will have significant implications for Calderón’s public policies. Most importantly, with the PAN losing about 60 of its 206 seats, the President’s party can no longer act on its own to stop legislative attempts to override presidential vetoes. In the Chamber, 66 percent of votes are needed to block a veto, meaning that the ruling party only needs 33 percent of the seats to carry forward the President’s veto wishes. This opens up new opportunities for the PRI and PRD to work together to thwart the PAN’s agenda.
A more immediate effect is on discussions surrounding the government’s budget for 2010. This is an annual process every fall where the Chamber of Deputies is responsible for changing and approving the federal budget, including the fiscal deficit threshold permitted for the upcoming year. With the PRI now more than doubling its representation, Calderón likely will be forced to work closely with the PRI to get the budget approved.
Government efforts to improve the level of tax collection—one of the lowest such rates in Latin America—will also be affected by yesterday’s vote. Although it was not widely publicized, the PAN has been working with the executive to approve changes in the fiscal law that would improve public money collection. This was on target to go through after the elections, but its future may now be in doubt since one of the PRI’s main campaign promises was to not raise taxes. Either way, a solution must be found to find new revenue streams for the federal government—recent reductions in oil prices and the worldwide recession have hampered the government’s ability to obtain resources for to pay for basic functions.
For the PAN to maintain its influence, it will need to work with the PRD in the medium term if it wants to curtail the PRI’s intentions. It has done so successfully in the recent past, particularly related to social development and poverty, but this time it will be of even greater importance.
Yesterday’s results also seem to confirm what many people had forecasted: without important changes to the incentives and rules of the political system, the PRI’s old guard and their techniques will continue to be highly effective.
Alberto Saracho Martínez lives in Mexico City, Mexico, and is the founding president of Fundación IDEA, one of Mexico’s first non-profit independent think-tanks.