Political reform: a bargaining chip without a manual.

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For the umpteenth time, a political reform in Mexico is discussed. Among the many “models” presented in recent weeks, the initiative carried out by PAN Senators (those headed by the former leader of the party whip, Ernesto Cordero) and PRD members, which has been presented before the Congress Permanent Commission on July 24th. Beyond the content of the political reform, its implications as an instrument of political negotiation, the parties’ stance regarding it and the potential impact on the national agenda are certainly interesting matters.
Within the framework of the last election campaigns, PAN and PRD leaderships managed to outline, in the addendum of the Pact for Mexico, the commitment to carry out a political and electoral reform before the ordinary session period to be held on September 1st. However, it is still not clear that the initiative backed by 46 opposition Senators has the Pact’s “support”, thus, it is not known if the discussion would undermine the agreement. Firstly, the PRI leader at the Senate, Emilio Gamboa, has voiced its opposition. Can we expect that, soon afterwards, the Pact’s Regulating Council will issue a different proposal and therefore, have two different projects of political reform? This ambiguity generated by the splitting within opposition – especially at PAN – weaken the strategic purpose of the political reform, that is to say, its characteristic as an instrument of negotiation with the federal government, in the face of the reforms that truly interest President Peña: energy and taxing.
The political reform issue has been a part of PAN’s pragmatic agenda. Currently, and even taking into account successes that occurred in the past administrations, such as independent candidacies – which haven’t been fully regulated – or the preferential initiative – nowadays, forgotten by the ongoing President – , a major political reform is still pending.  Issues such as legislative reelection, PGR autonomy as well as referendums and plebiscites have faced a fierce opposition of PRI in the past when the possibility of including them in public policy decisions came up. Why would that change now?
The opposition has the opportunity to capitalize the momentum of the federal administration in carrying out the essential reforms in its six-year term. Without taking into account the “yes” vote of PAN in both Chambers (certainly, not all of their members but a good amount, nevertheless), it will not be possible to materialize any relevant reform. That’s the “bargaining chip”. However, the promptness with which PAN tried to approve a political reform (despite not exactly knowing which one) seems to be a double-edged sword, and could end not benefitting the opposition if negotiation terms are not clearly set. Firstly, there is a lack of precision regarding the “minimum acceptable” requirements to consider a political-electoral reform project with the purpose of complying with this (alleged) condition and advance on the agenda that interests the Executive Power. On the other hand, the pace with whom the reform pretends to be approved seems irresponsible, mainly due to the delicate matters that it deals with. This creates the risk of over-rushing its final draft, “decaffeinate” it and, as it has cyclically occurred in the last two decades, to transform into a “mini-reform”, one that has been approved by most political forces and, after being applied in the real world, those same legislators who once approved will concur that it’s inefficient and will end up determining its demise.
Even though the large parties have agreed in the need for carrying out a political reform, all actual proposal have limited themselves to scholarly approaches or operational mechanisms for parties themselves. In none of the reforms carried out since 1978 up to now, have parties compromised in assuming themselves as an integral part of the democratic process or, at least, recognize that Mexicans currently live in a democracy. Nothing summarizes better the Mexican political reality than the answers of party leaders who were responding to a journalist question whether Mexico was democratic or not. PRI stated that the country has always been, PAN claimed that it has been since 2000 and PRD said that democracy is still consolidating. Contrary to the democratic spirit, parties are compromised with their particular interest and not with the process that is the essence of democracy: the way in which voters want to be ruled and by whom. No one can doubt that our system of government – including elections – is inadequate for a country that holds itself as a modern State; to change this, a disposition to transform the politics’ nature altogether is needed. Are parties that ask for so many reforms really tackling these issues?


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