Meeting with Dr. Luis Carlos Ugalde, President of IFE
On April 23, Dr. Luis Carlos Ugalde, President of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, participated in a breakfast roundtable to discuss the future of Mexico's democracy. Ugalde noted that Mexico has successfully consolidated an electoral process that is trusted by most citizens, but the country still faces two sets of challenges that will affect the quality of the democratic process.
One set of challenges involves granting the right to vote to Mexicans who live abroad, mostly in the United States. While there appears to be a broad consensus in Mexico that this is important, at least three key decisions need to be made that will affect the way the vote is exercised. First, a decision needs to be made on which Mexican citizens can vote while abroad. Should it be only those who have already obtained their voter registration in Mexico or should there be a mechanism for obtaining voter registration in the United States? This decision will affect how many Mexicans abroad actually participate in the process. Second, a decision needs to be made about how citizens will vote while abroad. Should it be through mail-in ballots or the internet voting or through actual polling stations set up at consulates and perhaps in public places? The size of the potential electorate voting in some areas of the United States makes setting up polling stations problematic, but mail-in and internet voting may not be feasible to implement with adequate security precautions given the current state of technology. Finally, decisions need to be made about regulating campaigns in the United States. There may be some ways to do this, but there are also important limitations. In particular, it would be impossible for the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute to regulate advertising by U.S.-based organizations in U.S. media in favor of Mexican candidates.
Another set of challenges involves the regulation of political campaigns within Mexico. There is widespread discontent among citizens about the cost of elections, the amount of money that political parties receive, and the often arbitrary costs of political advertising. There is no consensus, however, on how this should be addressed. One possibility for addressing the cost of advertising—which often varies widely—is to have the Federal Electoral Institute purchase time for political advertisements and distribute the time to political parties through a formula. Another possibility is to mandate a per-minute charge for political advertising on television and radio. Overall, there appears to be movement towards reducing the amount of public financing for political parties. The Federal Electoral Institute recently fined political parties for misuse of public funds in the 2003 congressional elections and plans to continue imposing fines as necessary to curb abuses.
Ugalde was cautious in venturing a prognosis on political reform in Mexico; however, he noted that there was basic consensus between the Fox administration and key political parties on important elements of a reform and that this could emerge from Congress in the near future. Similarly, there appears to be a broad consensus about granting voting rights to Mexicans abroad; however, there is less clarity on the mechanisms that will be established to make this happen.