Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, January 30, 2012

Gridlock Mexican style

The political environment in Mexico appears, in this Economist analysis, to create a more dysfunctional legislature than the one in the USA.

The siesta congress
AFTER a fortnight of Christmas fiestas, Mexicans groggily returned to work two weeks ago. Or rather, most of them did. For the 500 deputies and 128 senators of the national Congress, the holidays roll on until February. Mexico’s lawmakers sit for only 195 days a year, the fewest among Latin America’s bigger countries. (Their $11,200-a-month pay, however, is the highest after Brazil’s.) When they do stir themselves to vote, it is more often to block rivals’ bills than to pass reforms.

Gridlock in the palace of San Lázaro partly explains why Felipe Calderón’s presidency, which ends in December, now looks like a six-year damp squib. Mr Calderón has identified many of Mexico’s bottlenecks. But most of his big proposals have floundered in Congress…

Co-operation has been especially rocky since 2009, when the PAN attacked the PRI in mid-term elections. The mood soured further when the PAN formed a brief electoral alliance with its ideological opposites, the PRD, to push the PRI out of some governorships. With this deal, “the president cancelled the possibility of working according to agreement and consensus,” says Heliodoro Díaz, a PRI congressman.

Such rivalries exist in any democracy. Yet “in Latin America, [Mexico’s Congress] stands out as a bad performer,” says Víctor Lapuente, a political scientist at Gothenburg University in Sweden. Unsurprisingly, there has been more conflict since one-party rule ended in 1997…

Building coalitions is harder in Mexico, where congressmen are wedded to their parties and hard to buy off. No politician, from president to mayor, may stand for consecutive re-election. This quirk means that politicians depend on party bosses, not voters, for their next job, making it essential to toe the party line…

The July 1st elections will completely renew both houses of Congress as well as the presidency. Mr Peña’s boosters say that if the PRI wins all three—it already has most state governors—the deadlock will end at last…

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