Dream on

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One of the things that impresses me most of the legislative and political processes in all societies is the inevitable contrast between solving problems, finding solutions and the programs or enforceable laws that result from the tortuous process of negotiation. Typically, at the beginning, the proposal or bill tends to be coherent and directly aimed at the issue being addressed, but once it goes through the negotiation process it ends up being less coherent and, in many cases, often falls short of fixing the problem. Sometimes, when the architects of a project try to anticipate critics or opponents, even their first proposal becomes incoherent, tortuous and too complicated. Perhaps there is no alternative, but I keep asking myself what is the point of alleged solutions that have no chance of solving the problem.
Examples abound: we have the highly commended energy reform that has neither a chance to improve the oil monster’s performance or its productivity. There is also the project for a new refinery without it being obvious that there will be oil to refine or that in any case, it would be a profitable venture.
The same could be said of the proposal to reform the Mexican political institutions that the PRI has brought forward in the Senate, starting with the idea of reducing the number of sits by proportional representation in the lower house of Congress. In a system of popular representation, what should exist is a proximity between the representative and the represented. The reform proposals that are beginning to be discussed in the Senate include the possibility of reelection, which would seem to support that purpose. However, to preserve the system of proportional representation, what is advanced on the one hand is backtracked on the other, even if the total number of members of Congress diminishes. The hybrid that characterizes us (what we have right now is 300 by direct representation deputies and 200 by proportionality) hinders accountability and creates a distance between the citizens and the so called representatives. Unless this is the ultimate goal, it would be better to have a system of pure direct representation with redistricting so that all parties have a reasonable chance of achieving presence in the legislature or, in a less optimal scenario, have a system of full proportionality. If the objective is in fact to find a solution, it would be best to get it right from the beginning.
Many of the proposed solutions do not address the underlying problem. Although the rationale is to strengthen institutional structures (certainly a laudable goal), many of the initiatives assume that there is institutional strength rather than attempt to accomplish precisely that. For example, no one can object the proposal to ratify some key members of the presidential cabinet. However, when our main problem is institutional weakness, this proposal would only further weaken the presidency and, therefore, the country’s governance.
Perhaps the main issue at hand is that there is no full recognition that, following the defeat of the PRI in 2000, the country experienced a radical change in the reality of political power, and there has not been an institutional reorganization that meets the new realities. Once “divorced” from the PRI, the presidency becomes flimsy, not only viewed under our own historical standards, but even compared with other nations similar to ours. In the same vein, the actual structure of power has placed state governors at the center of the system, along with the leaders of the political parties. The initiatives being proposed do not seek more than a further weakening of the presidency without improving its ability to act and to govern.
In a country lacking strong institutions that are credible and respectable (and worse, a country prone to undermining those that come close to this paradigm), the notion of incorporating such figures as the referendum and the revocation of mandate, while both politically correct, entails an almost personalized inscription that can always backfire on the promoters of such initiatives. In any case, the latter are clearly instruments of power and not visionary proposals for institutional strengthening. They assume that all political actors would behave in an honest and institutional fashion in a time of crisis. As citizens, we should be very skeptical of such an approach: after what we have experienced in the past decades, at least from 1994 to the present and without forgetting the year 2006, can anyone construe this is as a valid assumption?
At heart, the problem is not the specific proposals or the prospect that in fact realistic and reasonable solutions are put forth. The problem lies in the fact that the frame of reference continues being the struggle for power and not the construction of a new political system, a system that turns the development of the country as a whole into a viable option. We are talking about an introspective and interested vision rather than a broad and ambitious approach of a generation of politicians thinking about the future.
Many of the proposals contained in the draft entitled “the eight Rs of the PRI” touch the core issues, but the approach taken is not meant to build a modern country, but to distribute power in the here and now, along with various specific retaliation schemes against concrete political enemies. Framed like this, the project is not conducive to strengthening the political system or the transformation of the country.
What is wrong is the approach and the apparent ulterior motive, not the concept itself: focused in a different way, the same concepts, or many of them, could become transformational.
For example, one could think not in weakening the presidency but in building a new presidential institution with the attributes that a modern country requires and with a view towards achieving effectiveness in government together with a system of checks and balances. Along the same lines, one could revise relations among the three powers of government, define areas of responsibility, and create institutional, and effective, dispute-settlement mechanisms. The use of money, one of the most contentious issues in recent years, could be framed within a new institutional context where an autonomous entity reviews the budget and creates mechanisms to make the executive (at all levels of government) accountable. The autonomous and independent entities also require upgrading, but with the aim to strengthen them as sources of balance, not as sources of submission.
In other words, the same core project could become a development factor if only these projects focused on building a trans-generational approach. The beginning of the year is a good time to start.

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Luis Rubio

Luis Rubio

He is a contributing editor of Reforma and his analyses and opinions often appear in major newspapers and journals in Mexico, the US and Europe (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, International Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio).