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Moving Beyond Mexico’s Crisis

As the crisis over Mexico’s disputed presidential election continues, questions are being raised not only about the conduct of the seemingly defeated candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, but also about Mexico’s presidential system. Is “presidentialism” as practiced in Mexico part of the problem?

Felipe Calderón of the center-right ruling party, the National Action Party (PAN), is currently leading in the vote count, which must be confirmed by September. The next scheduled presidential election is not until 2012, as are elections to the Senate, whose assent is needed for most legislation. Thus, Calderón and his party allies, with 41% of the Senate seats, can never have a majority during his six-year term, and will also have a minority in the lower chamber, where the PAN holds only 43% of the seats, until at least 2009.

If the street protests and legal challenges being mounted by López Obrador succeed, he will be in an even weaker position. López Obrador’s center-left Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), together with allied small parties, holds 31% of the Senate, and slightly less than one-third of the lower chamber. This means that for the first three years of a presidency brought to power amidst great popular demands, López Obrador would be able to enact little reform legislation. Moreover, he would not even be able to veto hostile legislation, because he would be the first president in Mexico’s modern history not to have the one-third of seats in at least one chamber of the legislature necessary to sustain a presidential veto.

So, whoever wins the election will have a partial minority in the legislature for his entire six-year term, and his legitimacy will be questioned by large segments of the electorate. In fact, since 1985, fifteen Latin American presidents – most without legislative majorities – have not finished their term. No one would want Mexico to add to that total, or to witness the emergence of serious anti-democratic tendencies.