Whither Mexican Democracy? An Analysis of the 2006 Elections and the Way Forward
Denise Dresser, ITAM and Reforma newspaper
Peter Ward, University of Texas
Moderator: Andrew Selee, Mexico Institute
It was not until September 6, two months after the July 2 elections, that Mexicans were given a definitive answer as to who their next president would be. Despite the civil resistance movement launched by the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador that blocked Mexico City's main thoroughfare for the duration of the summer, the Federal Electoral Tribunal declared Felipe Calderón of the governing conservative National Action Party (PAN), the winner of the 2006 presidential election with a margin of less than 1%. On December 1 Calderón will take office amidst an extremely polarized political environment where supporters of López Obrador have refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the incoming administration. Andrew Selee commented that the Mexico's political system, which up until recently had been deemed one the most democratic in Latin America, appears to still be negotiating major challenges without clear consensus on the rules of the game from all sides.
Denise Dresser referred to Mexico's current political situation as a house divided into two camps where people have become fanatic in their support or opposition fall between those who saw the elections as immaculate and those who thought them fraudulent; the committed analysts versus those who "sold out;" those who say Mexico's institutions are perfect and those who think they should be torn down; and those who hate López Obrador (also known by his initials as "AMLO") and those who would be willing to die for him. This political discord has produced an environment that will make it exceedingly difficult for the incoming administration to govern. Dresser commented that neither Obrador nor Calderón would be able to impose their vision under the current circumstances, where thirty percent of the electorate believes in the possibility that electoral fraud took place.
This fact demonstrates how successful López Obrador's political tactics have been, even if they caused him to lose the moderate vote he gained in the election. However, while he has consolidated his political base into a force that will be viable in the long term, Dresser questioned how his radical position will affect his relationship with the rest of the party, which won a significant percentage of seats in congress as well as governorships throughout the country. Dresser asserted that while the PRD's success in the July elections was due greatly to López Obrador's campaign, by creating a parallel social and political movement with sole purpose of opposing the Calderón administration and Mexico's established institutions, AMLO has put members of his party who are now a part of the government in a precarious position, where some may want to distance themselves in order to maintain political legitimacy. She criticized AMLO for fueling what are justifiable grievances instead of addressing them through Mexico's institutions.
However, despite her criticisms of AMLO's post-election response, Dresser pointed out that one must not forget that the legitimate cause of the force behind his movement, which is a symptom of major problems that plague the country including high levels of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. Political actors must not ignore the social conditions that laid the groundwork for AMLO's movement, and recognize that Mexico's economic liberalization benefited only a small portion of society. She warned that in their battle to incite hatred, marginalize and disavow López Obrador, Mexican ruling elites are ignoring the conditions that produced him. In order to modernize Mexico and deal with the post-electoral crisis, Dresser deemed necessary a true reform of the state with a new set of electoral reforms that takes on vested interest in monopolies as well as innovative and aggressive social policies. In order for this to be successful, the new government is faced with the task of building legislative support for these changes instead of sabotaging them in protest of the administration.
Looking at the environment for policymaking and democratic consolidation, Peter Ward explained the essential preconditions necessary in the short term. The first is considerable consensus among political parties. Unlike current president Vicente Fox, Calderón enjoys great party support within PAN, but the level of willingness to negotiate from PRD legislators has yet to be determined. He predicted that as AMLO becomes increasingly a spent force, Calderón will more easily be able to negotiate with other parties in government. Another precondition is that Calderón enter legitimately, a scenario that currently seems difficult given the large minority of voters who suspect fraud in the elections. However, Ward expected Calderón to acquire legitimacy insofar as his actions in the government produce results. He has the benefit of full party support from the PAN as well as having learned from Fox's mistakes. He must, however, address the structural issues such as inequality in order to maintain any type of legitimacy. He further pointed out that Mexican institutions were presented with an extremely difficult task in this election when faced with an exceptionally volatile Mexican electorate. According to a recent panel study, 39% of Mexican voters changed their vote between November and May.
The third necessary precondition is a sense of stability within the government. If instances of social disorder, violence, and crime continue to be high, democracy will be difficult to consolidate. Also essential is the prospect of economic growth, another element still up in the air but likely to develop. In this sense Ward stated that even though the Mexican economy is expected to experience modest economic growth, policies and reforms undertaken by the new administration will be crucial in determining Mexico's economic future. Finally, Ward considered room for political maneuver to be of key importance. He emphasized the significance of team building, which will be Calderón's first opportunity to do things right. He optimistically predicted that the Calderón will put together a plural cabinet, and foresaw additional room to maneuver based on who is elected to the U.S. congress in November and that fact that President Bush will have greater flexibility in the last two years of his administration. He also asserted that Calderón has experience working in Congress, an asset that will be beneficial to his negotiating abilities. In order for the Calderón administration to be successful, Ward articulated that there will need to be some policy coups that make inroads in terms of job creation and social investment and development. Additionally he predicted reforms to the energy sector and constitutional reforms on electoral rules such as the possibility of run-off elections or the establishment of a vice-president.