Jorge Castañeda, one of Mexico’s leading public policy intellectuals and Foreign Minister under Vicente Fox, wrote today that he was giving up his long-time quest to run as an independent candidate for President. And he threw his support to independent Senator Armando Ríos Piter, who resigned from the PRD and declared his candidacy in February.
Comparing the political situation in Mexico to that of France, Castañeda wrote in his column that while the objective conditions in Mexico were even more favorable than in France for a fresh political voice to triumph, the electoral system made it very unlikely, especially with a multiplicity of potential independent candidates. To have a chance of unseating the discredited partidocracy, voters would have to rally around a single independent candidate:
After more than a year of considerable effort, it is evident to me that … this unity candidate will not be me. However, I believe there are others who can meet the requirements: of freshness, a breadth of support, an ability to get people out. One in particular: El Jaguar, [Armando] Ríos Piter can count on my total support, in this fight that has barely begun.
Castañeda was personally the major force in making independent candidacies possible in Mexico. In 2004, he started a political and legal challenge to the electoral laws that gave registered political parties exclusive right to name candidates for office. His case went to the Mexican Supreme Court, where he lost. He appealed to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, where ultimately he was again turned down, in appeals that lasted into 2013. However, while the case was pending, Congress approved independent candidates in the 2007 electoral reform. (And in 2015, the voters of Nuevo León elected Jaime Rodríguez, El Bronco, governor — the first independent to win a major political office.)
President Calderón met with PRI Senate leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones to discuss the legislative agenda. The meeting marks a sharp break from the hostile interchanges between the Government and the PRI in the run-up to the elections–and the day after PRI party president Beatriz Paredes said, “We will negotiate nothing.” According to the Bajo Reserva column:
A bridge has opened. After the big confrontations with the PRI, Felipe Calderón met yesterday with the PRI Senate leader, Manlio Fabio Beltrones. And this was no casual encounter. It was in [the presidential residence] Los Pinos. It’s known that they talked about the obvious: the pending structural reforms, insecurity, impunity, the war against the narcos, the urgent need for dialogue among the political forces. What isn’t known if they talked about the distancing of the President from the priistas, which dates from November 2009 and which flared up again a few days before July 4th. Why Senator Beltrones and not Beatriz Paredes? This question encapsulates, among many other things, just how things are: Is the President now operating as his own Secretary of Government?
Congress recessed until September 1 without passing any of the pending reform proposals. (Universal 5/1, Reforma 5/1)
Political reform: President Calderón put forward his 10-point reform last December, followed by the PRI’s package in February, and a PRD version. All of these, plus others, languish in the legislative commissions without any consensus.
Labor reform: Labor Secretary Javier Lozano proposed a comprehensive reform in March to make labor contracting rules more flexible and making unions more transparent and democratic. It is strongly supported by the business community. May Day marches by the major labor unions across the country attacked the proposed legislation, and neither house has yet voted. (Universal 5/2)
Fiscal reform: No specific proposals have been made public, despite widespread recognition that urgent change is needed on both the spending and revenue side of the budget.
New media law: The PAN and PRD congressional delegations proposed an integrated reform in mid-April, after the PRI tried to ram through a Televisa-drafted bill. Hearings will continue over the summer. (Universal 4/28)
National Security reform: The Senate approved a law 105-1-1 clarifying the procedures and standards for deploying the military in public safety (i.e., crime fighting) operations, while punting on the question of subjecting members of the military to civilian court jurisdiction for some crimes. The law as passed is believed to be strongly opposed by at least parts of the military. The Chamber did not bring it to a vote. (Universal 4/28, 5/3)
Competition law: A watered down version of the Government’s proposed law to strengthen the Federal Competition Commission and stiffen penalties for monopolistic practices was passed by the Chamber 386-15-2; the Senate has not acted. (Excelsior 4/30)
Human Rights law: A constitutional reform strengthening constitutional protection for human rights and giving the language in the Constitution and giving the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) the power to investigate “grave violations of individual rights” passed the Senate in early April. The Chamber has not yet acted. (Universal 4/9)
With just six sessions remaining until the April 30th recess, Congress is expected to vote on a number of pending reforms and other legislation. Competition law reform and a new national security law are measures likely to come to a vote. The government is pressing for movement on political reform, but its fate seems uncertain without a consensus in the legislative commissions. In an op-ed, PAN party president César Nava said that the political reform should have at least five key elements: cut public financing for parties in half; reduce the size of Congress; give the federal electoral institute and federal electoral tribunal responsibility for organizing and adjudicating state and local races; allow independent candidates; and permit immediate re-election of congressmen and mayors. (Universal 4/18, 4/19, Excelsior 4/19)
Congress got an early start on the long Holy Week vacation, as the Senate failed to get a quorum for its last scheduled session. The Senate leadership, headed by PAN Senator Gustavo Madero, invoked ‘fast track’ rules to speed key legislation during the final month of the Congressional session, from April 6-30. On the agenda are 68 pieces of legislation covering 13 reform initiatives. The legislation is in four broad areas: national security, political reform, public safety, and internal regulation of the Senate. (Excelsior 3/29, Reforma 3/25, Universal 3/29)
The PRI submitted their own political reform package in February. This summary is taken from Senator Manlio Fabio Beltrones‘ exposition of the package in an op-ed in El Universal:
1. Give the Secretary of Government the authority to exercise Executive power, in the absence or incapacity of the President, until Congress acts to fill the vacancy.
2. Senate ratification for all cabinet officers, except the Secretaries of Army and Navy, as well as the heads of state agencies.
3. Eliminate proportional representation seats in the Senate, and reduce the size of the Chamber of Deputies to 400–300 direct election seats, and 100 proportional election seats.
4. Allow for the immediate re-election of federal and state legislators. Senators eligible to be re-elected once (total 12 years), and Deputies twice (total nine years).
5. Call the ordinary commissions of Congress into session 30 days prior to the opening of the regular congressional session, to prepare draft legislation. Dock the pay of congressmen who miss commission meetings without a valid excuse.
6. Require the President to present his Informe in person to Congress, and establish procedures for comment and reply by the different parties and the Executive.
7. Require that unspent budget funds be returned for reallocation the following year, rather than be spent at the discretion of the executive.
8. Speed final review of public accounts, eliminate secret budgets, give new powers to the Superior Auditor of the Federation.
9. Establish referendums on issues of national importance.
10. Give autonomy to the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Ministerio Público).
11. Restrict constitutional immunity for public officials to official acts.
12. Give the human rights commission (CNDH) power to investigate grave violations of individual rights.
13. Implement methods for conciliation or arbitration between the states for boundary disputes.
14. Require that any suspension of rights and guarantees be ratified by Congress, and reviewed by the Supreme Court.
15. Create a National Identify Institute, to issue identity documents.
Senate president Carlos Navarrete (PRD) predicted that the Senate will pass a political reform package during March, in order to send it to the Chamber of Deputies for its vote before the session ends on April 30th. Navarrete said that with the PRD-PT-Convergencia proposal (submitted last week) and the PRI proposal (expected this week), along with President Calderón’s proposal sent down in December there was plenty of material to begin preparing draft legislation. The PRD political reform proposal consists of 12 major points, including congressional ratification of cabinet officers and recall elections for the President, governors, and mayors, that are in sharp contrast to the President’s proposed reform package (which most analysts believe would strengthen the executive). (Universal 2/20, PRD Senate 2/18)