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Column 102912 Wall

Monday, October 29, 2012

Would a Second Round Help in Future Mexican Elections?

By Allan Wall

Mexico's 2012 presidential election was won by Enrique Peña Nieto of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional).  Peña Nieto is scheduled to take office on December 1st.

Nevertheless, everybody did not recognize Peña Nieto's triumph, chief among them runner-up candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (often referred to as AMLO), who ran under the banners of three leftist parties.

Granted, no system is going to make everybody happy.  However, Mexican lawmakers might consider changing Mexico's electoral system to allow a second round of voting, as some other countries do.  Such a system might decrease the number of politicians who contest future elections.

Given the current political alignment of the Mexican electorate, it's unlikely that any candidate wins a majority.  Indeed, it is not necessary for a candidate to win a majority, but only a plurality (that is, have more votes than any other candidate).

In the United States, the presidential election is decided by an electoral system in which each state has a certain quantity of votes.  In the UK and Canada, the prime minister is the leader of the party that wins in parliament.

In Mexico neither a U.S.-style electoral college nor a parliamentary system is operative. The election is determined by a plurality of votes.

In this year's election, Peña Nieto received 38.21% of the vote, while AMLO was the runner-up with 31.59% of the vote.  That was a difference of only 3, 309,765 votes out of a total of about 50 million votes cast.

Six year ago the 2006 election was even closer.  In that election AMLO was also the runner-up, after his defeat by Felipe Calderon, the current president, by a quarter of a million votes out of 41 million votes.  That's very close. Percentage-wise, Calderon had 35.88% of the vote vs. Lopez Obrador with 35.31%.

Such a close vote is bound to be contested, regardless of the merits of the electoral system.

So a two-round system might be of benefit to Mexico, and this has been suggested.

How does it work?  In the first round, if no candidate receives a majority (unlikely in Mexico) the top two vote-getters are selected. And in the second round they are the only candidates.

France utilizes a two-round electoral system, and coincidentally France had an election this year.

The first round was held in France on April 22nd.  There were ten candidates running and no candidate received a majority.  The two winners were incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy and challenger Francois Hollande.

The second round was held on May 6th.  In that round Hollande won with 51.63% of the vote, and took office May 15th.

In Spanish-speaking Latin American countries, the two-round presidential election system is used in Guatemala, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

If the two-round system had been in effect in Mexico for the 2012 election, Peña Nieto and AMLO would have been the winners of the first round, and would have gone on to oppose each other in the second round with no other candidates.  The voters would have had to choose between the two.

Therefore, the winner would have received a majority of the vote.

Of course, you have to figure out what to do about discounted votes -- spoiled ballots and write-in protest votes.  Hopefully that wouldn't be a problem in Mexico.  In this year's election, out of over 50 million votes cast, only about one and a quarter million were in that category.  Still, you'd have to have a rule about that.

The advantage of a second round would be that the electorate would have only two candidates to consider, the winning candidate would receive a majority of the votes cast, and thus enjoy greater legitimacy.

Disadvantages include the expense involved.  It would simply cost more money.

But it wouldn't have to be an enormous  amount of money.  For one thing, there's no reason to wait a long time for the second round, after all, the public already knows the candidates.  As in France, they could have the second round just two weeks later.

Besides the expense, there's a danger in having elections last too long.  After a certain point people just get burned out.

But a two-round Mexican election could be held using the same amount of time as this year's electoral process. You could just cut two weeks off the length of the election and use it for the second round.

And when it's all over, you have a winner with a majority.

Another effect a second round would have is on dyed-in-the-wool adherents of political parties that lose the first round.  Let's use this year's election as an example, supposing the two-round system were in effect.  If the PRI and the PRD are running candidates in the second round, that forces staunch PANistas to decide between a PRI or PRD candidate, or, if they can't stand to do that, to simply sit out the second round.  But it's their choice.

At the end, you have a winner with a majority.

After the new president takes office (the Congress is already in session) it's something they might consider.


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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