NewsLatin AmericaPlan B and the future of democracy

Plan B and the future of democracy

Demonstrators against the electoral reform outside the Senate of the Republic, on December 13.Galo Canas Rodriguez (Dark Room)

The approval by the chambers of deputies and senators of the so-called “Plan B” of electoral reforms proposed by President Lopez Obrador opens a new phase of democratic involution in the development of the hybrid political regime resulting from the transition to democracy. We still do not know if it is truly a turning point, but the truth is that the reform package calls into question the only certainty of the transitional process: the existence of an autonomous institution that guaranteed the objective count of the votes, a relative control of the excessive spending in politics and some compliance with the complex electoral laws agreed upon by the political parties. Plan B, as has already been said, seriously weakens the institutional framework of the IFE, changes the rules of competition by allowing the pre-campaigns of current officials, provides ample facilities for the political use of the media, and weakens the application of electoral laws by making almost supervision of the electoral process by independent authorities is impossible.

To ponder the meaning of these legal changes, arbitrarily imposed by the president on a submissive and obliging federal legislature that completely renounced the little autonomy it should have, we must put a bit of historical context to the current situation. The hysterical denunciation of the imposition does not help to understand what happens and even less what can happen. As I have pointed out on other occasions, the great deficit of the transition regimes was that of having lost the cultural battle against the PRI to the extent that they never managed to create a new form of relationship between the government and the citizens. The two PAN governments and the PRI government between 2000 and 2018 inherited, without changing them, the laws, institutions and practices of the PRI authoritarian regime. Although from 1990 to date more than 700 modifications to the constitution have been carried out, in reality all that has been done was to purge the 1917 Constitution of most of its nationalist and statist contents, update the government structure by creating institutions “autonomous” that would guarantee free and competitive elections and hypothetically regulate the markets, guaranteeing competition, including here the energy industry, and give legal support to the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada. A neoliberal constitutionalism whose cycle ended in 2013-14 with the “Pact for Mexico”. This relative modernization of the institutional apparatus of the Mexican State concealed, however, the preservation of the hard core of the dominant political practices in the old regime, namely: clientelism, particularism, systemic corruption as a method of dealing with businessmen and with the factual powers in general (and as an internal language of the political class), the absolute lack of respect for the law and the negotiation of conflicts and agreements “in the dark”, that is, in the private sphere.

Read Also:   Gustavo Petro in his first meeting with businessmen: "If you want to industrialize Colombia, you have to modernize the countryside"

Worse still, throughout the transition, centralist presidentialism, the weakness of federalism, and the failed character of the municipal level of government survived in the fundamental law and in political practices, always lacking real capacities, its own sources of financing and political autonomy from governors and the federal government. Likewise, the judicial and legislative powers, both federal and state, never achieved true autonomy vis-à-vis the executive power. The transition to democracy was, therefore, the product of a precarious and partial pact to carry out competitive elections, organized by an autonomous institution, under rules established in dense and complex electoral laws. The imposition of neoliberalism as an economic policy, the opening of markets and the insertion of Mexico in the North American economy was decided in the government of Carlos Salinas and expanded and perfected in the transition regimes. Curiously, the main obstacle to the development of a capitalism integrated into the world market, the absence of a Rule of Law, was partially resolved with the Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Canada, which created a space of exclusive legal guarantees for the great foreign and national capital, but that did not imply extending the Rule of Law to the rest of the nation.

Citizenship rights remained fragile and marginal for almost all Mexicans throughout the transition. This exclusively electoral pact, devoid of citizenship rights in a broad sense, led to our newly acquired democracy being illiberal in practice. A democracy where there are only political rights that are exercised episodically, without access to social, civil and cultural rights for the vast majority of the population, can only be classified as an illiberal democracy. It cannot be denied that there were greater spaces for freedom of expression, a relative tolerance of public protest and a certain expansion of the so-called civic space. But, in any case, these liberties were limited to a minority sector of the population, fundamentally, the urban middle and upper classes. For the working population there was no trade union democracy, there was no access to justice, there was no protection against crime, and there were no substantive improvements in terms of income, health and education. Our intellectual elites forget that liberalization was selective, not general.

Read Also:   The Prosecutor's Office of Peru initiates an investigation against President Castillo for alleged personal cover-up

Throughout the transition, two projects gestated in the authoritarian phase were in tension: the neoliberal, shared by the modernizing PRI and PAN elites, and the nationalist-developmentalist, championed by Cuahtemoc Cardenas and later by Lopez Obrador, who sought a return to a mythical past anchored in the revolutionary nationalist project, that is, the old PRI program. In this confrontation, the scarce existing left was subsumed, as in the 20th century, in traditional statist nationalism, for which the rule of law and citizenship had no centrality. Both neoliberals and nationalists were illiberal, but democratic in the sense of agreeing to settle differences through electoral means.

The collapse of the legitimacy of the Pena Nieto government, and the apparent lack of legitimacy as an opposition of the young PAN members who took over his party, opened the doors to the victory of Lopez Obrador in 2018. AMLO did not win the elections, they lost them the PRI and the PAN. However, AMLO read his triumph as an absolute authorization to do what he considered pertinent, presenting the new political situation as an opposition between a good people and a corrupt and immoral elite, which included the intellectual, artistic and media elites that had prospered in the transition. The concentration of power in the person of the president, the clear contempt for the law (which was shared by the entire political class), the symbolic and political annulment of all mediation between the leader and the people, created a populist regime with a nationalist program. . Populism in this phase has been democratic: it has come to power through elections and has fundamentally respected state institutions and freedoms. The problem is that its leader, President Lopez Obrador, feels that his project needs more time to consolidate, and the competitive elections, under the previous rules, prevent him from balancing the economic and media power of the de facto powers and the middle classes with the power of the state apparatus. That was the key to previous electoral reforms: preventing the use of the State for electoral purposes, which was the basis of the PRI’s authoritarianism. Now AMLO needs that state power to promote his candidates and nullify the social and political resistance to the continuity of the obradorismo.

Read Also:   The Liberal Party confirms Bolsonaro as presidential candidate for the October elections

The question now is whether this vernacular populism will go from being illiberal democratic to authoritarian, given the importance of the electoral reforms underway. I think it is not yet possible to answer this question. Plan B is an assault on the political order of the transition and jeopardizes electoral democracy as we have built it up to now. But that still does not mean the complete closure of spaces for political struggle. It will help true democrats a lot to understand that at this juncture democracy must be understood as expanding the space of citizenship, as building access roads to all rights for all, and not only as the defense of class liberties. professional politics. Yes, the autonomy of the INE must be defended, but it must also be fought with the same intensity for justice and peace. One battle without the other will leave us in the same place we have been in for the last twenty years: electoral democracy without citizenship.

here to newsletter from EL PAIS Mexico and receive all the key information on current affairs in this country

Subscribe to continue reading

Read without limits


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Posts

Read More

The Chilean Constitutional Court supports Boric’s pardons

The Chilean Constitutional Court has rejected the unconstitutionality requirements...