Institutions and Political Actors in Mexico's 2006 Elections
Welcome and Opening Remarks:
Andrew Selee, Mexico Institute
Jacqueline Peschard, UNAM and Wilson Center
PANEL 1: Political Party System in Transition
Alejandro Moreno, Reforma & ITAM
Jean Francois Prud'homme, El Colegio de México
Pamela Starr, Eurasia Group & ITAM
Moderator: Carol Wise, University of Southern California and Wilson Center
In July of this year Mexico will vote for its replacement of President Vicente Fox, whose six year term is coming to an end. These elections have been the center of political discussion in Mexico, and are increasingly becoming an important issue on the radar screen of American politics as well. On March 31st the Mexico Institute held a conference to address the upcoming elections in the context of Mexico's recent political transition. Andrew Selee noted the significance of the elections in both countries, as our policies continue to affect one another. Jacqueline Peschard emphasized what is at stake with these elections, stressing the importance that they be legitimate and efficient, and that political parties be held accountable.
Alejandro Moreno pointed out that this election has been characterized by a competition between the individual candidates rather than the parties they represent. Those who support the leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (currently leading most polls) do not necessarily affiliate themselves with his party, the PRD (Partido Revolucionario Democratíco). Moreno also commented on the way the electorate is divided among social and economic issues. The voters that support López Obrador but do not belong to the PRD are more moderate in both their social and economic views. People with center-left economic ideologies tend to support either the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), or PRD, while those with liberal social ideologies support the PRD and those who are more socially conservative the PRI. Supporters of the PAN (Partido de Acción Nacional), the party of President Fox and candidate Felipe Calderón, are generally economically and socially center-right. Moreno mentioned that crime has become the issue of most concern to Mexican voters.
Jean Francois Prud'homme discounted the idea that the party system in Mexico is in transition as premature, and instead characterized it as "frozen." In 2006 the system's configuration still reflects what it did in 2000, with small parties searching for protection from the three large parties by forming alliances. Also similar to the 2000 elections is the fact that the front runner is much more popular than his party. He referenced the creation of the Mexican party system in 1946 that mandated that candidates must be postulated by a recognized political party, a feature which Prud'homme predicted will not change in the near future. It is for this reason that there has been a trend among politicians to join other political parties when they do not succeed in their own. He also mentioned the low levels of institutionalization in the internal life of political parties. Pamela Starr noted that the problem President Fox's administration faced was that people's perception of presidential power did not decline while his actual power had, leading to high expectations of his administration going unmet. Unlike presidents who ruled during the 75 years of the PRI dominance, who maintained majorities in congress, President Fox did not have the power to pass his reforms and deliver on his promises for fiscal and energy reform. Starr pointed out that Mexico's structural and transitory problems such as a divided electorate based on party affiliation and region are not likely to go away.
PANEL 2: Change & Continuity in Institutions of Governance
María Amparo Casar, CIDE
Tonatiuh Guillén, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte
Jacqueline Peschard, UNAM and Wilson Center
Jonathan Fox, University of California, Santa Cruz & Wilson Center
Moderator: Francisco González, Johns Hopkins University-SAIS
María Amparo Casar made reference to the recent changes in Congress and its relationship with the executive branch, in that the legislative branch has gained power while the executive has lost it. Electoral reforms put an end to the former hegemonic party system, allowing Congress to normalize its functions of representation and oversight of executive power. Since this reform no party has been able to win a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. As a result, the lawmaking process has become not only more cumbersome, but prone to open conflict. Tonatiuh Guillén stated that democratization has opened up news paths for institutional actors, including governors and mayors. However, he pointed out that while democratization makes room for more participation, it also creates a fragmented federal agenda with weak policial actors who cannot implement policy effectively. There is also a weak quality of democracy in local governments. Further reform is needed to make Mexico's federal system work under democratic conditions.
Jacqueline Peschard pointed out that electoral institutions have played a key role in the Mexican democratization process through pushing forward transparency and accountability for political parties. She mentioned that since the electoral reforms in 1996 there has been a growing citizen confidence in the electoral system, but there are still tasks that need to be accomplished for 2006 that include equality in political representation through re-districting and a widened enfranchisement to include the vote abroad. She also mentioned that while the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) has carried out its tasks effectively, its general council has become sensitive to public opinion, which will inevitably lead to it appearing as biased or going beyond its legal faculties. She did say, however, that the IFE's activism will not affect the organization of the election or the core electoral structure.
Jonathan Fox addressed the issue of the interface between the state and civil society. He mentioned that although there have been constitutional changes, there has been no follow-up and no real change in the relationship between the government and Mexico's indigenous population and peasant organizations. The reforms that have been largely ineffective at achieving meaningful representation or accountable programs, and the situation of human rights remains an open challenge. He noted that the transparency law was an important advance, but noted that there were still threats to its survival and there are no national standars for transparency laws at the state and local level. Francisco González observed that there is still a clear divide between judicial reforms and the trustworthiness of the justice system. While the supreme court has become increasingly independent, other courts have improved much less. As a result, the Mexican public still does not trust its judges.
PANEL 3: Citizens & Social Actors
Mariclaire Acosta, Organization of American States
Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, ITAM
Chappell Lawson, Massachussets Institute of Technology
Moderator: John Bailey, Georgetown University
Mariclaire Acosta questioned the preparedness of Mexico's social actors to face their role in a fully democratized society, as opposed to one in transition. Civil society in Mexico boasts a rich history of helping establish the instruments that fostered a democratic opening under the authoritarian regime. However, according to Acosta, once the democratic transition was completed, civil society lost its drive to influence the democratic process. This was due, in part, to forces in civil society that refused to acknowledge that a transition had occurred; they argued instead that the country was only experiencing a change of the government in power. Nevertheless, some civil society organizations have prospered in the last six years particularly in its push for the Transparency Law and the increasing freedom of information that accompanied it. Acosta expressed concern at the ability of civil society to adapt to a new democracy – especially one in which resistance to authoritarianism is not longer a uniting force.
Jesús Silva-Herzog Marquez pointed out that in a democracy civil society is a gray area that will almost always be fragmented. He argued that civil society actors now play a different role from what they have traditionally in that their focus is primarily on the campaigns and party platforms. He also noted that the parties have each developed a different strategy for relating to civil society. The PAN was incorrect in calculating that the 2006 election would be issue-oriented with individual citizens reading party programs, comparing them, and voting rationally. Similarly, the PRI read the electorate incorrectly believing that since they had the strongest political machine and party structure they would emerge successful. In contrast, the PRD has drawn on a clientelistic strategy to bring citizens together with the party and has also targeted voters looking for a strong leader rather than a party.
Chappell Lawson explained the changes that took place in the mass media during Mexico's transition to democracy. The 1980's saw the change of print media as journalists began to realize they could survive without government subsidies. Subsequently, radio call-in shows came to be seen as offering a more independent and critical view of salient issues. Perhaps the most stagnant form of Mexican media has been television, which, until the 1990's, had been dominated by one single broadcasting company, Televisa. While Televisa has recently taken a more commercial orientation, competition in the television industry is still limited. However, in broadcasting itself, civil society pressure has demanded greater diversity in coverage. Networks like Televisa now pay greater attention to ordinary voices, academics, activists, crime, scandals, and corruption in the media. There has also been a new inclination towards equity in the coverage of political campaigns. Lawson pointed to the changing nature of electoral campaigns that will allow for much greater targeting of voters using the media.