Progress, but to What End? 2007 Electoral Reform in Mexico

Article excerpt

Throughout most of the 20th century, Mexico was known as an exceptional case of successful and continuous one-party rule in the Americas. That came to an end in 2000, when Vicente Fox took the presidency away from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), initiating the last phase of the transition to democracy. Competition ensued, and the 2006 election that led Felipe Calderon to the presidency--keeping the National Action Party (PAN) in power--was the most closely contested one in modern times. The race could be described in many ways, but equitable is an adjective that few would dare use.

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Despite the almost psychotic claims of fraud by the losing candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, it was clear by 2006 that the electoral rules had succeeded in fulfilling the task they were designed to accomplish: minimizing the possibility of fraud. Hence many concerns were raised about equity in the electoral competition, an issue that had always been present, but had rarely addressed head. on. The aftermath of the election changed the situation, setting the stage for a widely--although not always deeply--discussed electoral reform. The changes resulted in amendments to the constitution and the refurbishing of the current electoral law. Though in Mexico, the newest electoral reform falls short of improving equity in any substantial form. Furthermore, the new rules are likely to weaken the already feeble electoral connection between voters and elected officials, thus making the latter even less accountable to the electorate.

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A Long History of Electoral Reforms

Elections have been regulated in one form or another in Mexico since before it was an independent nation. In 1963, the Federal Electoral Law was reformed to regulate the existence of so-called party congressmen, allowing parties other than PRI to have representatives in Congress. The 1977 Federal Law for Electoral Organizations and Processes (LOPPE, its acronym in Spanish) formalized the random selection of citizens to serve at polling places and included representatives of political parties in the Federal Electoral Commission. The 1987 Federal Electoral Code (CFE) increased the representation of political parties in the Federal Electoral Commission and forced the results of each polling place to be made public as votes were counted in situ.

The 1990 Federal Code for Electoral Institutions and Procedures (COFIPE) was crafted in response to the suspected fraud in the 1988 presidential election. It created the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) as a decentralized entity in charge of organizing federal elections, still coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior. COFIPE was reformed in 1992 to introduce an identification card with voter's photographs. It was subsequently reformed in 1993 to regulate the existence of electoral observers, and again in 1994 to increase the weight of citizen councilors on IFE's General Council. The subsequent 1996 reform granted IFE autonomy, making it an entity run by citizens, and created the Federal Electoral Court as a specialized branch of the judiciary. A reform in 2002 introduced gender quotas for candidacies; the 2005 reform gave Mexicans abroad the right to vote.

In a nutshell, the first generation of electoral reforms in contemporary times (1963-1987) sought to make the electoral system more inclusive and grant greater legitimacy to the electoral process and its outcomes. In contrast, the second generation (1990-1996) sought to eliminate electoral fraud and make elections more transparent. The third generation (2002-2005) contributed additions to the prevailing scheme, making electoral institutions more inclusive by forcibly incorporating those groups that had been excluded from candidacies and voting. With these achievements in place, the Mexican government must now guarantee equitable electoral competition.

The 2006 Election

The 2006 federal election took place under electoral laws that successfully minimized the chances of mass fraud. …