I am surely no expert on Mexican politics, even less so on its party system but…
EN EL SENADO.- El senador Manlio Fabio Beltrones, Leonardo Valdez, presidente del Instituto Federal Electoral, el consejero Marco Antonio Baños y el senador Javier Orozco, durante la reunión de análisis de los trabajos para revisar la Reforma Electoral.
Manlio Fabio Beltrones is a known aspirant for the top spot in Mexican politics for 2012. As of now he is the Senator heading up the committee of Electoral Reform in the upper chamber. In previous conferences by Jeff Weldon (2008 CSIS: A Change for the Better?), he mentioned the possible motives of the 2007 electoral reform efforts headed up by Beltrones of the PRI. In a recent paper of my own I paraphrase the situation:
“2007 electoral reform instead chose to focus on rearranging the institutional accountability of the TRIFE, campaign finance law and restricting negative political ads on the radio and television. Despite the existence of proposals from the PRD to consider creating a more semi-presidential system and the PAN‟s discussion of removing term limits, the end results were mostly driven by immediate political factors resulting from an extremely polarized environment following the close 2006 presidential elections.
The PRD sought to validate its claims that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) was robbed of the presidency by punishing the TRIFE for not nullifying Felipe Calderón‟s 0.5% victory. The PRI, led by President of the Senate (and 2012 Presidential aspirant), Manilo Fabio Beltrones sought to remove IFE counselors he saw as loyal to former priísta Elba Esther Gordillo and ban negative campaign ads that may be used to attack his shady past (read: Protection of Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juarez Cartel during his tenure as Governor of Sonora 1991-1997).The PAN‟s chief concern
was horse-trading with the other parties to get President Calderón‟s Fiscal Reform initiative through the Congress.”
The summary of the main implication as a result of the 2007 reforms that went into effect in 2008 municipal contests and were really tested in the lead up to the July 5, 2009 midterm elections is: LESS ACCOUNTABILITY (read rendición de cuentas) . I mean to say accountability in the way it is described by John Carey.
o “that representatives communicate to voters what they will do if elected,
o that information about actions once in office is available to constituents,
o that representatives are responsive to the preferences and demands of constituents,
o and that they are punished for lack of responsiveness.” – John Carey (2003)
Beltrones’ PRI did better than even many expert analysts expected in the midterm elections and this gives them tremendous bargaining power in the next round of electoral reforms (which is generally seen as a constant in Mexican politics — despite its probable impact on confusing voters, political actors, and probably inverse correlation with turnout).
In a paper I drafted in May of this year I proposed the following scenarios for the three major parties expecting a major PRI victory, an abismal showing for the PRD, and a better showing than actually occurred for the PAN.
Barring any serious electoral scandals during these elections, it could be
the prime moment to propose electoral reform changes in late 2009. The increased bargaining power of the PRI vis-à-vis the PRD and PAN would give them more clout at compelling Calderón‟s PAN to compromise. Therefore, proposing electoral reform that allowed for the elimination of term limits on only SSD members in the lower chamber could significantly stand to benefit the PRI if they retain the large number of seats they are expected to win in the 2009 midterm elections.
REVISING TERM LIMITS FOR SSD DEPUTIES OF THE LOWER CHAMBER ALLOWING FOR ONE CONSECUTIVE THREE YEAR TERM:
- Will provide the electorate with a more direct ability to reward or punish incumbents for their service to the direct via the ballot box
- Elected representatives would have an incentive to respond to their constituency demands following elections
- This would not too drastically alter the balance of power in the parties as party leadership could still seek refuge on the closed PR lists.
- Equally important in this reform would be to NOT provide reelection for MSD representatives, also known as plurinominal members, or either chamber. Doing so would distort accountability and have the unintended consequence of allowing further insulation of party leadership from accountability to the electorate under the current ballot design.
Reelection of plurinominal representatives would allow party leadership to perpetuate itself within the lower chamber due to closed-lists, whereby candidates from large parties placed at the top of the party lists would all but guarantee themselves reelection without any direct accountability for their individual performance. The distortion of accountability here is further complicated by the fact that plurinominal representatives serve no tangible citizen constituency in the lower chamber because of their election from multimember districts that use closed primaries for candidate selection and, seats are allocated based on percentage of national vote from closed-lists. In essence, by forcing list members to vacate lower chamber seats due to term limits, it releases their direct control over specific committees and party resources and, compels them to serve in a variety of different public positions which could be seen as bureaucratic resume building.
- If this strategy is successful at increasing voter confidence and turnout over the period of two midterm elections then the deepening of this reform to include the upper chamber should be considered.
- PAN BARGAINING STRATEGY: May go along with the electoral reforms if cooperation on meaningful follow up to recently approved PEMEX reforms is promised within a sixmonth window – needed to increase government revenues/spending during low economic growth. Also, if the PAN believes they have the more organized political organization out of all Mexican parties, they would stand a better chance of garnering momentum in the period of time following the elections.
- Unfortunately, in the wake of what appears to be serious ruptures within the ranks of the PAN, internal cohesion is not adequate for taking on the emboldened PRI. Finger pointing between the two major wings of the party continues in the face of the resignation of German Martinez from the presidency of the PAN following the July 5 elections.
- Cesar Nava appears to be the only candidate for assuming the duties of presiding over the CEN and getting the PAN back on track. He is a bright and ambitious political riser who was the Secretario Particular (like Chief of Staff) of Felipe Calderon in Los Pinos until he decided to campaign for a spot in the DF Legislative Assembly.
- Calderonistas (including Nava) tend to run up against tension with the Fox camp (including former PAN president, Manuel Espino, his former Sec. Particular, Erik Porres, and the like).
- PRD BARGAINING STRATEGY: Allowing for more direct appeals to voters in these districts through potential reelection of PRD single-member district deputies could help the PRD do better at defending its seats from its top electoral competitor, the PRI. May go along with this because they have already shown that they have been able to put together a winning formula in in the south of Mexico and in the Federal District. They also may be enticed to support additional electoral reforms. Also, electoral reform compromise from the PRD in 2009 could open the door for its more ambitious proposals for electoral reform in the next round.
Also among my recommendations
ALLOWING FOR REVISION OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE LAW TO PERMIT MORE CRITICAL TV AND RADIO ADS:
- A major feature of deliberative representative democracy is open debate about policies, parties and candidates. Extremely rigid campaign finance rules that only allow for IFE sanctioned spots to run during specific times, on specific stations, with very little ability to personalize the connection that spots make towards district voters and candidates for office, inhibits pre-electoral accountability in a situation where post-electoral accountability is already an issue.
- LENGTHEN ELECTORAL CYCLES! Why?: Shortened electoral cycles make it even more difficult to introduce the new crop of 300 SSD candidates to the electorate every three years.
- During the proposed electoral reform discussing term-limits (mentioned above) the PAN and the PRD should push the issue of changing the rules governing TV and radio advertising. Traditionally the PAN has served to critique corrupt and shady figures of the PRI with such ads in the past (often paid for with private monies), but the compromise here can be to maintain IFE control, while loosening the restriction on negative advertising.
The PRD should find this agreeable from its relatively weak vantage point coming out of a poor showing in the 2009 midterm elections and its need to criticize the incumbents leading up to the 2012 presidential elections.
TAKE AWAY: It is clear that the electoral rules of the game are not ideal for building accountability and transparency into the system. After the 2007 electoral reforms that went into effect at the beginning of 2008, and which will be evaluated closely following the July 2009 midterm congressional and local elections, accountability and transparency seem to be decreasing rather than increasing. As issues such as political corruption impede Mexico‟s quality of governance, there should be strong incentives to open the political process so that public officials can be held accountable in free and fair elections. On the path for democratic consolidation, Mexico finally reached a point where elections are relatively clean and transparent, political alternation is occurring at all levels and where civil society organizations are beginning to play an increased role in policy platforms. Deepening democracy suggests more explicit accountability through the ballot box; allowing voters to reward or punish legislators for their performance in office. In the effect that not all of the suggested reforms are approved it is important to realize that at the very least opening the major media to public debate and to critical campaign ads is necessary to provoke democratic debate among the polity about the persons running for election. With such short electoral cycles it will be even more important that the public be given every opportunity to vet their candidates, especially because with single term limits, candidates are often party insiders but somewhat unknown to the larger population. With theproposed reforms above, the ability to push feasible adjustments to the electoral system would serve as steps in the right direction for Mexico‟s democracy.
Again, I’m no expert but the man below is: I hope any of you readers direct comments at this page or contact Jeff Weldon whose contact info is below.
Telephone: 5628-4000 Ext. 3751 email@example.com
Full Resume Ph.D. Cand.. in Political Science (UCSD, 1991); Masters in Political Science (UCSD, 1993); Undergraduate Degree in Political Science (Washington, 1986).
Fields of interest: Congressional Behavior, Federal Elections, Local Elections.