Monday, January 23, 2006
Balkanized Politics and the 2006 Mexican
After months of political cannibalism, Mexico’s
2006 presidential campaign officially began on January 18th.
The race to replace Vicente Fox, Mexico’s first
democratically elected president in seven decades, besides being of paramount importance is expected to be fierce and contentious.
Most observes agree that it will test Mexican electoral maturity, and determine the nation’s destiny, as voters decide
between advancing a democratic process despite its intricate setbacks, or simply giving up and going back to the old-style
In reality Mexican politics took an important turn
many years before the Fox victory.
In the late 1970s and 1980s mounting National Action
Party (PAN) victories in local and state elections, nonviolent protests against electoral fraud, and some lasting guerrilla
movements forced the long governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to acknowledge a growing public trend. Until then
elections had been normally uncontested, with unchallenged results, but opposition had begun to surface. In some cases opposition
candidates began to challenge and win over the PRI’s local organizations, causing them to recognize or defiantly steal
victories, thus loosing credibility and authority.
Widespread corruption, and the economic crises of
the 1980s and 1990s, further damaged the PRI’s reputation and created a sense of public cynicism towards those who govern.
Simultaneously, the PRI realized its presidency was
no longer omnipotent and could not persist without compromise and negotiating legislation in Congress. The party lost its
hegemony, and the regime its authoritarianism.
The imperial PRI thus decided that in order to legitimize
and control power it was best to divide and conquer. Accordingly, in 1977 political reform legislation was passed and the
Balkanization of the Mexican political system initiated.
The reform lowered requirements and eased methods
for achieving legal status for new political parties and groups, expecting that their future involvement would be futile as
far as the winning of elections was concerned. They were in turn offered congressional seats, in order to have radical elements
within the political structure rather than on the outside.
To gain provisional registry, a prospective party
had to provide its statutes and principles plus evidence of a certain number of members. Upon gaining a set percent of the
national vote (today two percent) the party became "permanent," whereas failure to reach the percentage level would terminate
Reforms eventually enlarged the Chamber of Deputies
from 300 members to 500 deputies, 200 seats now reserved for parties in an elaborate proportional representation scheme. The
law also granted free monthly radio and television time to all registered parties.
In a misguided effort to democratize the electoral
process, public financing for political parties was granted. As such, past electoral performance set a financing formula that
benefited the large parties. And private financing was limited to ten percent of a party’s campaign funds.
However, the expectation that an increased protest
vote conceded to the PAN would be diluted among the new parties was wrong.
The PRI soon found that keeping legitimacy and control
were almost impossible. Being legitimate meant recognizing defeats and surrendering positions, while control meant government
intervention, excessive campaign spending, and fraud.
This promptly produced a crack within the PRI, allowing
its leftwing to split and, after several botched attempts merge with Mexico’s leftist coalition into what is today the
Party of the Democratic Revolution, the PRD. And since a number of PRI-turned-PRD members have won governorships, congressional
seats and consecutive Mexico City mayoralties.
At present there are eight registered parties for
the 2006 election: the aforementioned big three, plus the permanently registered Mexican Ecological Green Party (PVEM); Labor
Party (PT); and Convergence Party. The recently formed Social Democrat and Campesina Alternative (ASC), and New Alliance (PNA),
have provisional registries.
Considering that control by fragmentation was more
of a motivator than advancing democracy, those who drafted the political reforms failed to consider electoral shifts, or to
take into account levels of opportunism and corruption. This myopia has encouraged political freeloaders, who make the formation
of new parties their livelihood. This in turn has brought about economic and politically motivated alliances between contradicting
ideologies, people and cliques who also deadlock reform indicatives so they can continue to receive vast amounts of public
funds provided through loopholes.
Insofar as political scandals, corruption and cronyism
have now been publicly exposed in Mexico, there is a growing public outcry to do away with excessive members of congress,
political parties and financial pilferage. A mood that does not set an auspicious tone for 2006 and what will definitely be
an antagonistic and disputed election year.
Carlos Luken, a MexiData.info columnist, is
a Mexico-based businessman and consultant. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.