Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Article: Despite Flawed Votes, Mexico's Electoral Reform Push Unlikely to Go Far

Global Insider: Despite Flawed Votes, Mexico's Electoral Reform Push Unlikely to Go Far

By The Editors, on , Global Insider
World Politics Review

Late last month, Mexico’s opposition insisted on electoral reforms before it would support the ruling party’s efforts at energy reform. In an email interview, John Ackerman, a professor at the Institute of Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), explained the need for and obstacles to electoral reform in Mexico.

WPR: What did the conduct of Mexico's most recent elections indicate about the need for the electoral reform?

John Ackerman: The last two presidential elections, in 2006 and 2012, demonstrated that Mexico is far from establishing a trustworthy institutional democracy. During both elections, there were widespread accusations of fraud, and the electoral authorities behaved in a partial manner by covering up irregularities. In 2006, authorities turned a blind eye to gross violations of the electoral code, refused to conduct a full recount and even denied citizen access to the ballots after the election. In 2012, extreme cases of media bias, vote-buying and overspending by the winning candidate went almost without notice by the authorities.

Citizen confidence in public institutions and the political class therefore has reached a historic low. Many Mexicans wonder whether a “democratic transition” has even occurred at all. The Mexican authoritarian system historically held periodic, supposedly “free and fair” elections, which were in fact rigged beforehand. The widespread impression is that this “electoral authoritarianism,” or “perfect dictatorship,” as the writer Mario Vargas Llosa described it, continues to today.

WPR: What are the parties' interests in changing the system?

Ackerman: The old guard and now ruling Party of the Institutional Revolution (PRI) has successfully returned to power by using its old authoritarian tactics of overspending, electoral abuse of public funds, media manipulation and vote-buying. It will therefore make every effort possible to block advances in electoral reform, particularly in the areas of oversight of campaign spending, media independence and voter freedoms. The PRI will prefer to keep the discussion in the realm of bureaucratic reforms to the key electoral agencies—federal vs. national structure, for instance—or on broader issues such as re-election or runoff elections.

The principal opposition parties, on both the right (PAN) and the left (PRD, Morena) are pushing for oversight reform, guarantees of media impartiality and for greater political independence for the electoral authorities. But in the end it is in the interest of the leadership of all of the parties to keep things as they are, since the present situation helps keep the current leaders in power on all sides of the political spectrum.

WPR: How is this process likely to play out?

Ackerman: We will probably see minor adjustments to the electoral system designed to appease the political opposition and get them onboard for other reforms, such as the highly unpopular energy reform bill designed to privatize the oil industry. But, in the absence of widespread citizen mobilization, it is very unlikely that the ruling party, which dominates but does not fully control both houses of Congress, will allow profound electoral oversight reform to go forward. 

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