Congress Approves New Set of Electoral Reforms

Article excerpt

The Mexican Congress has approved another set of electoral reforms that would make the legislative branch more effective and open up the country's political institutions to more democratic participation and scrutiny. The latest reforms, approved in early December, allow sitting members of Congress to run for re-election, eliminating the previous restriction that limited legislators to a single three-year term in the Chamber of Deputies and a six-year term in the Senate. Under the reform, states would be given the option to decide whether to allow direct re-election of mayors and deputies in state legislatures.

The changes would also replace the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE) with a more powerful and independent agency, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE). This reform is intended to create greater oversight of state elections, which have been managed by state electoral institutes.

Another significant change in the electoral legislation is the requirement that each political party submit an equal number of male and female candidates for public office. Historically, Mexico has lagged behind on electing women to important offices, although the July 2012 elections brought an improvement in the gender-equity ratio in Congress (SourceMex, Aug. 8, 2012).

The last major electoral reform, approved in 2011, allowed citizens to run as independent candidates and to organize citizen referendums (SourceMex, May 4, 2011). The subject of re-election was also proposed then but was not included in the final bill. The reforms approved that year have already had some impact on the political process. An independent candidate won a mayoral election in Zacatecas state in July 2013 (SourceMex. July 17, 2013). The referendum process gives the center-left parties another tool in their effort to oppose the privatization-oriented energy reforms proposed by the governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the conservative Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), and their allies (SourceMex, Oct. 16, 2013).

Despite overwhelming support for the electoral reform, there are concerns that the legislation was approved too hastily and without the appropriate debate. Critics said the PRI included some demands from the PAN in order to gain the support of the center-right party to ensure that energy reform was approved before the end of the legislative session in December. The PAN's main proposal was reelection, but the party was unable to convince the PRI to accept its other major proposal--a runoff in presidential elections if the winner does not get more than 50% of the vote.

The electoral reform, say critics, is an example of President Enrique Pena Nieto's misguided efforts to promote legislation in key areas without much debate in order to meet campaign commitments to make deep structural changes in Mexico in the early years of his administration. The president and the PRI were recently hampered by the loss of support from the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD), which withdrew from the Pena Nieto-supported coalition Pacto por Mexico because of allegations that the PAN and PRI were meeting secretly to push through an energy reform plan that the center-left parties adamantly oppose.

Reforms put major emphasis on re-election

The support for re-election was broad and overwhelming, with members of all parties supporting the initiative. Proponents say re-election creates continuity and allows experienced legislators to continue serving beyond the single term currently allowed under the Mexican Constitution. Under the plan approved in Congress, legislators would be allowed to serve 12 consecutive years. …