Congress Approves Major Electoral-Reform Legislation

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, September 19, 2007 | Go to article overview

Congress Approves Major Electoral-Reform Legislation

In an unprecedented display of unity, the three major political parties reached consensus on legislation to enact major reforms to Mexico's electoral laws. The initiative, which includes eight constitutional amendments, was easily approved in both chambers of Congress. The measure contains two key reforms--a ban on candidates, political parties, and their supporters buying political advertisements on radio and television; and a restructuring of the elections watchdog Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE). The Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM), the Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD), and others objected to some provisions of the legislation because it favored the three large parties at the expense of small parties.

In the end the legislation was approved by an overwhelming margin in both houses of Congress. In the Chamber of Deputies, it was approved 408 to 33, with nine abstentions. In the Senate, the vote was 110-11 in favor.

The easy approval of the legislation was a mild surprise, given the gridlock that had prevailed in Congress during the administrations of former Presidents Vicente Fox and Ernesto Zedillo. The impasse that often blocked legislation in Congress during the previous two administrations was partly a function of increased representation of other parties in the legislative body (see SourceMex, 1997-09-03, 2000-07-12 and 2003-07-09).

The gridlock turned to outright animosity late during the Fox administration, in part as a result of a failed attempt by the governing Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) and the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) to strip immunity from then Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador for alleged violations of the Constitution (see SourceMex, 2005-04-13).

The atmosphere became even more tense in the aftermath of the 2006 presidential election, which Calderon and the PAN won by an extremely narrow margin (2006-07-12 and 2006-08-30). Claiming that the PAN stole the election from Lopez Obrador, the PRD and its allies in Congress disrupted Fox's final State of the Union address (2006-09-06) and Calderon's inauguration ceremony (2006-12-06) and forced a change in format in Calderon's first annual address (see SourceMex, 2007-09-05).

Initiative incorporates PRD proposals

One reason the election-reform legislation gained easy approval was because the initiative incorporated changes sought by the PRD after the 2006 election, in which it said the PAN had an unfair advantage. Television and radio advertisements bought by the PAN were cited as one reason Lopez Obrador's standing in the polls declined in the months leading to the election. In the ads, the PAN called the center-left candidate "a danger to Mexico" (see SourceMex, 2006-05-03 and 2006-06-07).

"The reforms that were approved were a tacit recognition by the legislature that some of the PRD's criticisms of the 2006 election were justified," said the Los Angeles Times.

PRD legislators agreed. "This is a day for celebration," said Javier Gonzalez, floor leader for the party. "With this reform, Mexican democracy will overcome flaws that put its viability at risk."

Beyond the question of whether the ads ultimately made a difference in changing the minds of the electorate, concern had already been growing about the large amounts of money that the three major parties were planning to spend on the 2006 campaign, even before the candidates were selected. A large share of this money went to buy airtime on television and radio (see SourceMex, 2005-09-28).

Apart from the spending on radio and television ads, the Congress moved to reduce total campaign spending significantly. Political parties will now be allowed to raise a maximum of only 40 million pesos (US$3.6 million) from private sources for a presidential campaign, compared with 270 million pesos (US$24.5 million) previously.

The Congress also reduced public financing for parties by about 5%, resulting in a savings of 200 million pesos (US$18. …

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