The institutional system in Mexico has had a blemish since its foundation. With the exception of certain periods in which individualistic authorities that resembled the monarchies of Maximiliano and Agustín de Iturbide or the dictatorships of Porfirio Diaz and Antonio López de Santa Anna, political elites have mostly tried to attach themselves to a model consisting of three branches of government as well as its scheme of weights and counterweights. However, reality always has crushed this utopian institutional framework, and has ended up concentrating power in the head of the Executive Branch.
The Mexican presidential figure has acquired its strength and dominance at the expense of weak counterweights that are subject to its power. History shows that the main periods of stability and economic growth – though not necessarily the best times for a majority of the population – have been characterized by an authoritarian exercise of power. Nevertheless, experience has proven that this has had a high price for long-term development and has resulted in inequitable and unsustainable boom periods. This is no coincidence and the key to understand the cyclical failures of the country’s economic promises lies, amongst other factors, in a lack of strong institutions.
Having said this, confusing institutional strength with control has proved to be a formula with poor results and almost always aimed at weakening the legitimacy of authority. The problem becomes apparent when those who hold power begin to paralyze, to lack a project, and to be unable to focus on certain situations. The current crisis in Mexico, where the Ayotzinapa case is just a symptom of a greater evil, reveals a problem of institutional weakness whose detonator has not been the tragic events in Iguala and other similar occurrences, but in the federal government’s attempt to implement a centralizing governance model that used to work before but no longer has a place- due to its unviability- in contemporary Mexic o.
On the other hand, almost all criticism to the country’s current situation tends to focus on the President’s work and leadership. This makes sense when taking into account how the Mexican political system has operated for decades. The truth is that political stakeholders, especially those who participate in the legislative and judiciary branches of government, are rarely accountable, a factor that is essential to explain and find solutions for the economic and structural problems of the country. With the first post-Revolution party shift in the executive branch that took place in 2000, it was expected that the system of weights and counterweights would begin to materialize in a spirit of democratic transition. This did not happen. On the contrary, the presidential figure was gradually isolated against a Congress that never was akin to him, a very poor management as well as a constitutional design that, paradoxically, provided him with very few powers. It should be said that the authoritarian power with which the Presidency was held for the first seven decades of PRI in the Presidency did not emanate from the Constitution itself, but from the so-called meta-constitutional powers; in other words, strength that was more powerful than any other law.
Now that it is back as head of the Executive branch, PRI has tried to centralize the power of authority. At first it seemed to do very well with the signing of the Pact for Mexico and the subsequent alliance with the leadership of the two main opposition parties to his government project. However, the agreement was limited to generating a legislative governance, and even though it was key in achieving the eleven structural reforms that have been labeled as necessary for decades, it has proved insufficient in answering two essential questions: first of all, what will happen after these reforms?; and secondly, what actions and what institutional framework is required to address and solve the country’s structural problems? In other words, the elements that are needed for reforms to have their desired effect: governance rather than political negotiation.
It is clear that the current model is obsolete, so it is quite possible that continuing the strategy of placing patch over patch (or pact over pact) will give the exact same results: short-term palliatives that will not solve the actual problem and will only perpetuate it and will exacerbate it as each new crisis arrives.