Electoral and Political Reforms in Mexico

Is it advancement in democracy?

By Carlos Angulo

Many people say that the political and electoral reforms recently passed by the Chamber of Deputies in Mexico was approved by the ruling party PRI in exchange for the conservative party PAN’s approval of the energy reform, recently approved by Congress.

The view of the PAN in this respect, was that it was necessary to fix many issues and loopholes that PRI governors use to control local state elections, and the abuse of rampant campaign spending by PRI in its budget for elections, before President Peña Nieto could receive the political benefit of the boost that the Mexican economy will receive from the Energy Reform’s expected high levels of foreign investment.

Recently, in mid December, the Senate approved the changes made by the Congressmen of the Lower House, and sent the bill to the States to approve the political reform bill. All expect for the States to approve this reform within the next few weeks.

The principal change made to the Mexican electoral system, is the “nationalization” of the administration of all elections, striping the state governments and the Federal District of their influence in local elections, by the creation of a National authority that will be in charge of the elections, the new National Electoral Institute or “INE” by its Spanish acronym.

Notwithstanding that the INE will now control Mexican elections at a national level, the state and Federal District electoral authority did not disappear; but the appointment of its controlling members will be determined by the INE’s General Council, and not as before, by the local Legislators that where controlled by the State governors and the Chief of the Federal District.

The members of the INE General Council will be appointed by the Chamber of Deputies, through a system that will secure that party quotas will not exist guaranteeing a fair and professional electoral authority.

Although, the rulings made by the State electoral authorities may be repealed by the INE General Council, and judicial review will stay at the State level with magistrates appointed by the Mexican Senate with a 2/3 special majority, instead that by the local legislatures, and their judgments will be subject to further judicial review by the Electoral Court of the Federal Judicial Power.

Finally, the INE will also control all electoral officials at the Federal and local levels reviewing their performance, and making all necessary dismissals and new appointments.

With all these changes it is expected for Mexico and its political parties to have a fair administration of the electoral processes for the Municipal and State elections.

A major breakthrough is the constitutional amendments that will allow elected officials for the Federal Congress, local legislatures and members of Municipal Councils to be re-elected, as of 2018 for up to three terms for congressmen and state representatives; and for an additional term for Senators and Municipal Councils. With these changes, political parties will somewhat lose their absolute control that they now have over elected officials, although they will maintain the power to appoint the candidates even for officials that will be running for re-election.

The constitutional amendments provide a new threshold for having political parties maintain its registration from 2% to 3% of the valid votes in a federal or local election (for local political parties). With this new limitation it is expected that only four out of seven currently existing national political parties will maintain their registrations.

Several new events by which an election may be nullified are established to avoid unfairness in the use of funds for election campaigns. Now the use of illegal funds or public funds, the runoff of maximum campaign funds and the contracting of media outside the authorized parameters established by law, are basis to cancel electoral results. 

The Secretary of Finance and Public Credit and higher treasury officials will be appointed by the Senate.

Coalition governments may be formed by election of the President, upon which the Senate will appoint all members of the Cabinet, excepting the Secretary of Defense and of the Navy, and the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and Secretary of Energy, among other officials, although such presidential appointees are subject to ratification by the Senate.

The Attorney General office will become independent form the Executive Branch, becoming autonomous, avoiding politically conducted judicial actions, and will be elected by the Senate.

A mandate to legislate a political party law is established to regulate coalitions with a more flexible set of rules, the selection of candidates and party officials, and transparency of their monetary resources.

Finally, a minimum of one local election should be held during the time a federal election is held, and the dates of elections are moved down one month, to the fist Sunday in June, and the Presidential inauguration is moved down from December 1, to October 1st.

We believe that with these constitutional amendments, the illegal intervention of local government officials and bosses will be eliminated, securing a level playing field in local elections. The admittance of re-elections in most of the elected positions (except for the President and Governors), will distinctly enhance the power of the citizens over the elected officials, significantly improving the quality of the legislative branch and Municipal governments.

Carlos Angulo is a Congressman for the Third Federal District, member of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN),
Secretary of the Constitutional Reform Committee, and Maquiladora Committee of the Chamber of Deputies of Mexico.
He has more than 40 years of professional practice in mergers and acquisitions, banking law and foreign investments.

He may be contacted at: cangulo@mexico-now.com