Interview with Mexico Watch

Mexico Watch reports on political and economic developments in that country for business investors and others with an interest in Mexico. The most recent issue includes an interview [PDF; begins on page 3] with your Orchardist about the election. With the permission of the publisher, F&V is able to present some excerpts:

Mexico Watch: Given the experience of other presidential democracies in Latin America, and the specifics of the Mexican system, how viable is Calderón’s pledge to form a “coalition” government? What forms could this take and what institutional barriers might impede it?

Matthew Shugart: My answers assume a Calderón presidency, but of course that is not a sure thing. We have to wait for the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF).

In any event, we have to ask, coalition with whom? The experience of other presidential systems suggests that a coalition of the president’s party with that of the runner-up (in this case the PRD) is highly unlikely. The very definition of a presidential system is that the president is solely responsible for organizing and directing the executive branch. Thus the second-place party has little to gain and much to lose from being a junior partner in a coalition for which the president’s party will get most of the credit – or blame. And it is blame that it will count on, for the PAN taking blame for whatever goes wrong over the next six years increases the Partido de la Revolución Democrática’s (PRD) chances of picking up the top prize in 2012.

A coalition with the PRI is more likely. Probably not a formal coalition, but a working arrangement. The PRI is badly weakened and should be willing to cooperate without demanding too high a price.


MW: What is the likelihood of electoral reform to break the three-party stalemate, and what might a reformed system look like?

MS: I do not like the use of the word, “stalemate,” or the notion that three-party politics needs to be “broken.” There is no majority party in Mexico, and the idea that we should engineer one with crafty electoral-system design is simply the wrong way to approach the situation. While we certainly could create an electoral system that would give one party a majority of deputies despite its not having a majority of votes, I don’t see such a system being legitimate. That is, these parties – yes, even the PRI – represent real constituencies of real Mexicans. Until such time as one of them can convince a majority of Mexicans to vote for it, the parties will have to learn to bargain with one another. That’s democracy, and thus something to celebrate!

Of course, one could make a very convincing case that the electoral system for the presidency should be changed to require a runoff. As a student of presidential elections, I do not see anything inherently wrong with presidents being elected with less than 50 percent of the votes, but when they are elected with much less than 50 percent and also a tiny margin, the case for a runoff is strong. But let’s recall that constitutional amendments are unlikely to pass without the cooperation of the PRD. Would that party agree to a majority-runoff format? Could the PRD expect to win a nationwide majority? Would either the PAN or the PRD want to put the PRI in a “kingmaker” position in a second round? Interesting questions to ponder! Maybe they could agree to a plurality of less than 50 percent remaining sufficient, but only if some stipulated margin over the runner-up has been achieved. If the margin requirement were not met, then there would be a runoff.

In short, Mexico has a divided electorate, but despite the tensions of this election, I would not say a deeply divided one. Compromise is possible – likely, in fact. The existing electoral system for congress works well, as does the existing balance of powers between the executive and legislature. The troubles Fox had with Congress were more a result of three parties sort of feeling their way in the new competitive environment than of anything structural. If I were asked what one thing to change about Mexico’s institutions, it would be to allow legislators (maybe the president, too!) to be reelected. Otherwise, do no harm! Mexico has come a long way in a short time, and its democracy is arguably healthier than most in the region.

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