July 18, 2009
Mexico's Midterm ElectionsBy Allan Wall
Down south in Mexico, midterm elections were held on July 5th, resulting in a major upset for the ruling party. What significance, if any, does that have for us ?
I recently visited Mexico, where I previously resided a decade and a half. We waited to return until July 5th, so my Mexican wife could vote in the election before we departed.
So, on the morning of July 5th, I accompanied my wife to the polling station and observed the voting. Of course, being an American, I was careful not to interfere in any way. It was not my first time to observe a Mexican election, as through the years I have observed several and written about them. And I have to say that I'm impressed with the Mexican voter registration system, which is superior to our rather slipshod arrangements.
In Mexico, every registered voter has an official ID card, complete with photograph, fingerprint and a holographic image. It's not just the existence of the card that's important, but how it is used.
At the Mexican polling station, there is a book containing the photographs of every voter in the precinct. When a Mexican voter presents his card, the poll worker looks up his photo to see if it matches up. If it does, a mark is made next to the photo in the book, and the voter is allowed to cast his ballot.
When I was there on July 5th, a voter's photo ID didn't match up with her photo in the book, because she brought her previous voter ID and not her current card. She wasn't allowed to vote, and had to go home to get her current ID.
After voting, the Mexican voter's thumb ink is applied to his thumb. That way, if he shows up at another polling site to vote, they know he's already voted elsewhere. (The ink wears off after a few days.)
In contrast, U.S. voter registration is a joke. In many states, it's not even necessary to prove one's citizenship, or even one's identity! Registrars have been instructed not to be inquisitive about applicants' citizenship - or lack thereof.
It should come as no surprise then, that the last few years have seen more and more examples of voter fraud coming to light, including the casting of ballots by non-citizen voters.
Whenever Americans try to require photo ID, it typically gets opposed by Hispanic activists who say it's discriminatory. That's ironic, since photo ID is a requirement in Mexico, which is the world's biggest Hispanic country.
The solution for U.S. states is to adopt a Mexican-style photo voter ID system, at government expense. Why not? We spend money on all sorts of things, why not a secure voting system?
Now, let's return to the Mexican midterm election. First, some background is in order.
These elections were midterm elections because they lie halfway between the presidential elections of 2006 and 2012. (Mexican presidents have six-year terms). Like the U.S., the Mexican Congress has two chambers. The lower house of the Mexican Congress, the Chamber of Deputies, has 500 representatives. Every three years, 100% of those representatives are replaced (with no re-election allowed). Of the total, 300 are directly elected by electoral districts, with the other 200 selected by proportional representation.
It's also necessary to know something about the major Mexican political parties. Until recently, Mexico was ruled as an authoritarian one-party state by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (the PRI). Within the last couple of decades, however, the PRI's hold on power began to loosen. In 2000, the party lost the presidency to Vicente Fox of the PAN (National Action Party), who was followed in office three years ago by Felipe Calderon, also of the PAN.
This July 5th, though, the previously-vanquished PRI came roaring back , capturing a whopping 36.7% of the total vote, while the president's PAN got 28% of the vote. (The other major party, the far-left PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution) garnered only 12.2%).
In the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, the result is a greatly-strengthened PRI. The new Chamber is slated to take office on September 1st, and when it does, PRI should have 241 seats (up from 106) which will give it 49% of the seats in the chamber. Add to that the 17 seats won by the Greens, who have an alliance with the PRI, and the party has a de facto majority. The PAN, meanwhile, dropped from 206 to 147 seats and the PRD dropped from 127 to 72 seats.
What can we learn from this election about the Mexican political landscape? The old PRI has survived its previous loss of power and is now coming back as a competitive party what could win back the presidency in 2012. By the same token, the President Calderon's PAN can no longer rest on its laurels as the party that overthrew the PRI in 2000. No party, however, looks to be able to institute another one-party state. There are three major political parties and various other small ones.
Mexico faces enormous challenges. President Calderon has proven himself a capable administrator and has actually pushed some modest reforms through the Mexican Congress. However, the recent U.S. economic downturn has hit Mexico hard, and the ongoing battles with drug gangs continue to rage.
Calderon is a talented political operator, and is no doubt already studying how he can accomplish something with the PRI majority in the lower house. The question is, though, will the PRI congressional delegation cooperate with Calderon, or be spoilers, biding their time for the next election?
And how can we expect the new balance of power to affect Mexico's relations with the U.S.A.? It's not a question of searching for "pro-American" and "anti-American" parties and politicians in Mexico . We must understand that the Mexican political system is quite different from ours. Mexican politicians don't like American meddling, which is counter-productive anyway. The fact of the matter is that, it's the Mexicans themselves who are going to have to carry out necessary reforms and solve their own problems.
That doesn't mean, however, that we can't work with Mexico on questions of mutual interest. We can and should. As for the drug wars, the insatiable appetite for illicit narcotics is a big cause of the havoc in Mexico, and we ought to reconsider our whole "War on Drugs" which hasn't been too successful here either.
As for immigration, all Mexican political parties support mass emigration to the United States. They all want us to open our borders and if we don't do so, they are going to call us "racist" and "xenophobic". Therefore, we ought to just disregard what they have to say on that subject. The U.S. needs to get control of its borders, reduce legal immigration, and quit allowing Mexican diplomats to meddle in our immigration policy.
That, in my opinion, is the best way we can help Mexico anyway. For years, its leaders have utilized their northern border as a safety valve to reduce pressure on the economy by getting lots of Mexicans out of the country. But once we shut off their safety valve, the Mexican government would have to really get serious about economic reforms that would improve the employment situation. It's actually the best way the U.S. could help Mexico
In the meantime, Mexican politics is still quite interesting to follow, and we could sure learn from them how to operate a voter registration system.
Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after having resided many years in Mexico.