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López Obrador, A Chance To Bring Mexico's Democracy To Life

The leftist president-elect has an opportunity to end shoddy political practices and turn the county — finally — into a lawful, thriving democracy.

New president-elect of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and new Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard during a press conference on July 10 in Cidade Do Mexico
New president-elect of Mexico Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and new Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard during a press conference on July 10 in Cidade Do Mexico
Luis Rubio

-Analysis-

MEXICO CITY — Mexico has chosen a new president, and it's now time for reconciliation. The incoming government, with its focus on changing dominant paradigms, has an exceptional opportunity to transform the country, bridge our divisions, and forge a different future. To do so, it must build on existing bases to tackle the three issues the president-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, cited as priorities in his campaign: economic growth, poverty and inequality.

In the past three decades we have moved from an authoritarian system that sought to control the population and tolerated no competition, to a competitive electoral regime that lacks, nevertheless, the institutions needed to generate certainty and protect citizens. But both systems have a shared denominator: the absolutely crucial nature of elections, where everything is at stake every six years. No country can live with this permanent, intermittent threat to its political and economic stability.

In the Mexican polity that emerged from the 1910 revolution, the central figure was always a president whose effective powers greatly exceeded his constitutional prerogatives. Concentration of powers combined with the long-governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI)"s control mechanisms, superseded legal frameworks and effectively bestowed supra-constitutional powers. Those powers were not only expressed through decisions, but also gave the president a central role in a web of personal and political loyalties paid for with corruption and impunity.

The ability to contain risks is simply absent.

This is the regime we have lived in for almost a century, and which did not change a jot with the election of the conservative PAN (National Action Party) governments (2000-2012). It has impeded real development and made the country vulnerable to recurring crises.

The president is so important here that a mistaken election or decision may provoke schisms. The problem is not in the person but in the vast powers he wields, which can affect all aspects of people's lives. When the PRI ruled, its succession mechanism — until 1970, at least — was intended to prevent the next president from breaking established cannons and norms, or jeopardizing the country's viability. The opportunity today is to end that regime without sacrificing what it built so as to generate unprecedented wealth and jobs.

Things changed in 2000 when the president's intrinsic powers diminished (for "divorcing" the PRI) while new, almost autonomous powers emerged in the form of state governors and candidates who did not share previously laid-down paradigms. The combination of vast powers and absence of shared paradigms intensified this dislocation process, provoking fears, imbalance and crisis.

Mexico is no longer a marginal country in international relations. When its economy was closed and the government controlled (almost) all the variables, the inevitable risks in a succession process could be contained. Today, with an open financial system, an export-oriented economy, and fierce competition to attract investment (both domestic and foreign) so crucial to people's welfare, the ability to contain risks is simply absent. No country can avoid a battering from the markets now, when key financial and political balances are broken.

Mexico has changed dramatically since the mid-20th century. And yet, its political regime is essentially the same, though now, instead of generating certainty, it has become a source of uncertainties if not an outright threat to stability. The president's vast powers used to permit government to act in concert as happened in the years of "stabilizing development" (1950s and 60s), but also allowed bureaucratic and political abuses that have become intolerable in the age of social networking. Universal access to information has today robbed the system of its very essence, namely the power to control.

There is a chance now to implement the political reforms the former system eschewed, and create effective checks and balances to give the country political and economical viability for a century. Only a strong president could achieve this real, and revolutionary transformation. For a future without poverty and with equity, Mexico needs a change of regime. It needs a state built on the rule of law, which means only one thing: checks and balances to protect the citizen. That would realize the development we have sought for so long, and end our climate of hate and confrontation.

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