Democracy and Federalism: Two Brand New Challenges for Mexico

World Forum on Democracy Warsaw, Poland – 25-27 June 2000 Democracy and Federalism: Two Brand New Challenges for Mexico By: Mara Hernández+ Introductory Remarks Throughout the 20th Century, Mexico’s history has been marked by a complete contradiction between it’s constitutional framework and the reality of its political system. Since 1917 we have had a Democratic, Federal and Republican Constitution, with a detailed Bill of Rights to protect, at least in paper, the dignity and integrity of each citizen. Yet, since the beginning of this century we have been a centralist and authoritarian nation, populated by millions of individuals who are ignorant of their political and civil rights. Only 10 years ago, each state governor was unofficially appointed by the president; the PRI had retained the absolute majority of the upper and the lower chamber, and of all 31 state congresses. During more than sixty years, this gigantic party (absurdly named as Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI) dominated every aspect of the countries public life (from administrative offices to labor unions and even Public Universities), at all levels of government, in each of the 3 branches of power: executive, legislative, judicial, and even the media. Every six years, Mexico would carry out a fake presidential election, organized by the PRI, to replace the incumbent -never surprisingly- with the PRI’s candidate. This new president would concentrate all the political power for the following six years and would then choose his successor. The PRI’s sophisticated machinery has achieved self-perpetuation through fraud and violence, using state resources for party purposes and treating all loyal opposition as criminals and enemies of the state. Current Situation Today, one third of our State Governors are form opposition parties; the PRI has lost the majority in the lower chamber and fundamental reforms to our institutional framework have taken place, but still a lot remains to be done: · Firstly, checks and balances between the legislative and the executive branch have increased considerably and state governments are playing a more active role in the national debate. Yet, the judicial branch is still dominated by excessive centralism, inefficiency and corruption. Judges are accountable only to their supervisors and are poorly paid. Specialized courts in administrative, agrarian and labor issues remain subordinated to the executive branch. Competencies have not been clearly defined between the three levels of government and almost any case can end up being discussed in our Supreme Court of Justice. Consequently, federal courts are saturated and work at a very slow pace; justice turns out to be so expensive that only a few can afford it. · Secondly, a significant proportion of public spending has been reassigned to the state and municipal levels. According to official data, the federation has control of only 30% of public spending, while states and municipalities spend 70%. Yet, more than 60% of that 70% is « granted » by the federation with sever restrictions. The decentralization of education, for example, means state governments pay the teachers, but nothing else, programs and curriculums are still centrally planed! On the other hand, the pace of democratization at the federal level has clearly exceeded that of the other levels of government. Thus, in the municipalities and states, accountability is still ambiguous and authoritarian practices have not been eradicated. A significant portion of resources handled by the State governments are assigned amongst municipalities and locations with complete discretionallity. · Thirdly, legislative oversight on public spending has become clearer with the predominance of the opposition. Nevertheless, the PRI continues to be criticized for manipulating social policy and infrastructure investment for electoral purposes. Recent research on the subject suggests that the population political preferences of a location are a significant variable to explain the distribution of public spending between locations. While this continues, resources will not be assigned efficiently and poverty will not be consistently alleviated. Also, the federal government has managed to retain the monopoly of information that is crucial to assure accountability and transparency. The current administration has refused to reveal information regarding a presumably illegal financial operation to finance the presidential campaign of Ernesto Zedillo, in spite of the Congress’s demands. · And finally, perhaps the most important in this transition, an autonomous entity, the Federal Electoral Institute (where all political parties are represented), has been created to organize elections. It is due to this new Institution that we Mexicans are now dreaming with the possibility of a peaceful alternance in power, for the first time in more than 70 years. Next Sunday, July 2, close to 50 million Mexicans will participate in the election of our new president and new congress. 1. A clear-cut definition of responsibilities and competencies among the three levels of government (federal, state and municipal), form the very beginning, according to the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. 2. An autonomous entity responsible for ensuring accountability and transparency in public spending, with a legal framework to guarantee its access to complete information regarding public spending and the criteria de distribute them. 3. New institutional arrangements to solve controversies between the different levels of government. 4. A sound fiscal reform to create the correct incentives at each level of government. 5. New institutions for intergovernmental relations, so that governors can share their experiences and participate in policy making at the federal level. 6. Deep reform of the judicial branch to guarantee full independence form the executive and to promote decentralization, accountability and higher levels of efficiency. 7. A wide national debate to design the proper institutional arrangements to accommodate ethnical diversity. In Mexico’s democratic transition, federalism will be a key issue to ensure governability and accountability. Throughout modern history, federalism has proved to be the most valuable instrument for democracy, both in terms of efficiency and equity. Democracy requires participation and empowerment, and this can only fully take place at the local levels of government. Democracy also requires good governance and tangible outputs for the wellbeing of the population, and this can only occur through a coherent distribution of responsibilities between all three levels of government.