The Problem with Mexico's Political System
The problem in Mexico does not lie in the elections, the vote, the alliances, the single command, the second round, the “opposing front,” the corruption or the reelection of legislators, but in the capacity of the political class –the extended one, including all of the parties that, since 1996, comprise part of the world of privilege- to preserve the status quo.
“Politics,” wrote the great and irrepressible comedian, Groucho Marx, “is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.” The problem in Mexico does not lie in the elections, the vote, the alliances, the single command, the second round, the “opposing front,” the corruption or the reelection of legislators, but in the capacity of the political class –the extended one, including all of the parties that, since 1996, comprise part of the world of privilege- to preserve the status quo. That is, the true problem is that there is no disposition in the least to change the existing reality by those with the power to not change anything. Those who followed the last elections in the State of Mexico or in Coahuila could conclude nothing other than that the problem does not reside in the electoral procedure but in the essence of the political system itself.
Perhaps there is no better way to describe the phenomenon characterizing the debate (read conglomeration of monologues) during recent months than that which recounts the old PANist saying: “Don’t have any illusions, then no one will be disillusioned.” For some strange reason, the notion has emerged that the country’s political problems can be reduced to unbalanced electoral processes that lead to useful-vote calculations and to the absence of legislative majorities that allow whoever is governing at the time to get away with his or her preferences. That is to say, the problem, in this characterization, is that the citizenry is stupid and that, instead of expressing their inclinations, they should be led by persons who better understand how the problems of the country should be solved.
Decades of observing the national political dynamic have taught me at least three things: first, that there are no magic solutions and that problems are not solved with the adoption of superficial responses that do not deal with the core problem. The second round, or runoff, is all of that: a magic solution, a fetish, because it would appear to respond to the problem of the moment, but does not strike at the quintessence: it supposes that all of the players in the game are honest and that they play by the rules. The latest batch of elections demonstrate that this is a fallacy and that political change on a much grander scale is necessary for the power relationships themselves to be altered because therein lies, at the end of the game, the phenomenon perpetuating the status quo.
The second lesson is that Mexico lives in two worlds: that of debate, discussion and easy solutions, on the one hand, and that of power on the other. The one discusses, analyzes and advocates -honestly so- for solutions to the problems of the day. The other stands guard over the status quo. There may be no better example of this than the legislation apropos of the reelection of legislators. The basic concept underlying reelection consists of placing the legislator in greater proximity to the citizen whom they (supposedly) represent. However, at the time of approving the respective law, a “small” prerequisite was incorporated into the latter in order for a legislator to be reelected: procuring the backing of the party leadership. With that “minor” restriction, the defenders of the status quo and of immobility trimmed down the link that rendered reelection relevant and useful; the result will be that we will have legislators for life without their ever having acquired the endorsement of the citizenry. It is most likely that something similar would take place with the second round.
The third lesson is that all of the actors are engaged in a perverse game. Opinion writers, analysts, and critics propose solutions, but thereafter cling to myths, magic solutions, and fixations that do not solve the problems at the core. On their part, the owners of the power accept the recommendations and subsequently generate solutions that do not attend to the real problem. Some hold fast to their interpretation of the problem, others undermine the viability of the tendered proposal. The fantastic part is that myths are engendered that serve to elude the problem at heart. The beneficiaries will celebrate, as occurred after the elections a few weeks back, while the critics embark upon the next fetish.
The heart of this issue is quite clear: the problem is not the form in which the elections are held, although there one can appreciate -in living Technicolor- the symptoms of the political-electoral chaos into which the country has fallen, but rather in the power monopoly that has had the capacity of paralyzing everything, making the electoral processes irrelevant and corrupting the Legislative Branch. From that perspective, we can go on changing all the laws we want, promoting modifications to the law in electoral matters or press for “coalition cabinets,” but none of these is going to alter the essence of the status quo. And that is the pivotal matter: the problem is not one of laws or of forms, but of the divorce between those who govern and those who suffer them. And that translates into absence of government.
Over the last several years, we have witnessed the renaissance of the vision of the government controlling everything that could not be less concerned with the sensibility of the citizenry, the vision that believes that it can manipulate the vote and impose itself on the choices of the citizens. In this, the current government is not distinct from its main challenger: both live in the Mexico of the 1960–1970s.
Mexico will change the day that the society, and its opinion makers, join in unison to modify the essence and not only the symptoms. All the rest is illusion.
This article was originally published on CIDAC's website.
About the Author
Mexico Institute Advisory Board Member & President; Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales (COMEXI); Chairman, Center for Research for Development (CIDAC), Mexico
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more