Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, July 30, 2010

Elections and gridlock

The Economist offered a report on the state elections in Mexico and an analysis of what's going on and what's needed. Both are helpful explanations of Mexican politics and some of the stakes of the political process.

Joining forces
DURING the campaign ahead of Mexico’s state elections on July 4th, many feared that the gruesome run-up to the vote would overshadow the results. Two candidates were murdered, and countless others were intimidated: one would-be mayor found a decapitated corpse deposited outside his home. The atrocities, including four dead bodies hung from bridges on election day, were attributed to drug gangs reminding the country who rules the roost.

Yet the vote itself, in 14 of Mexico’s 31 states, provided a surprise that could redraw the country’s political map. The opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000, took over the lower house of Congress from Felipe Calderón’s conservative National Action Party (PAN) in 2009. It had been forecast to sweep all 12 of this year’s contests for governorships before winning the presidency after Mr Calderón steps down in 2012. Instead, it took just nine, the same number it held before the vote.

The three states it lost, Oaxaca, Puebla, and Sinaloa, had been ruled by the PRI for 81 years. They are bigger and more important than the three states the PRI snatched back in return…

The PRI lost its fiefs to an unlikely alliance between the PAN and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). The pair have been bitter rivals since the PRD’s 2006 presidential candidate accused Mr Calderón of stealing the election. They are ideological opposites…

The parties are likely to repeat the tactic in next July’s race for governor in Mexico state, the country’s most populous…

The new alliance could affect policy as well as the horse race. Almost all of Mr Calderón’s legislative initiatives have been diluted or defeated in Congress. With PRD support, Mr Calderón could almost scrape together a legislative majority…

The PRI still holds Congress and 19 of the 31 governorships. But the July 4th vote has opened up new possibilities in a previously paralysed system.

Rising violence, fading hopes
ONE reason why traffic is so appalling in Mexico City is that drivers routinely block others from crossing road junctions rather than miss the chance to edge forward before the lights change. And so it is with the country’s politicians… here has been a broad consensus that Mexico needs thoroughgoing reform of its corporatist institutions and its oligopolistic economy if it is to create a vigorous, prosperous democracy. But the opposition has been reluctant to forfeit short-term advantage or anger privileged insiders—from teachers to television companies—by helping the government pass legislation…

The cost of Mexico’s paralysis is rising. The economy was badly hit by the great recession… An initially strong recovery now seems to be stuttering. At the same time Mr Calderón’s crusade against Mexico’s powerful drug gangs has prompted vicious turf wars in northern cities…

Part of the government’s problem is that it does not have enough clout to impose its authority on the country. In theory, Mr Calderón and the PRI’s most plausible presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, agree about the changes needed to bring that about. But in practice the PRI sees little reason to help Mr Calderón, since it hopes to cruise to victory in the presidential contest in 2012 by promising a dose of old-fashioned strong leadership after the PAN’s ineffectual tenure.

Voters may have other ideas. The PRI was expecting a clean sweep in the gubernatorial elections. Instead, in three of the most important states in play (see article), where its rule was marked by the corruption and cronyism Mexicans became familiar with when it ran the country, the PRI lost…

All three parties, but especially the PRI and the PAN, should take note. Whoever wins in the presidential election due in 2012 risks repeating the frustrations of the past ten years. All those who aspire to govern should sit down now and hammer out a set of political reforms which would give the next president a reasonable chance of carrying out his mandate. Otherwise Mexico risks continued gridlock, deeper disillusion with democracy and more violence.

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