LATIN AMERICA

Mexican lawmakers will be allowed to run for re-election breaking historical taboo

Senate passes Peña Nieto’s political reform without votes from leftists

PRD officials and supporters hold a protest Tuesday in Mexico City against the government’s proposed energy reform.
PRD officials and supporters hold a protest Tuesday in Mexico City against the government’s proposed energy reform.Alex Cruz (EFE)

In an historic move, the Mexican Senate on Tuesday night approved one of the most ambitious political reforms ever to take place in the country’s democratic era, allowing for the direct re-election of legislators and mayors.

After a more than eight-hour debate, senators from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and conservative National Action Party (PAN) joined forces to do away with one of the most deep-rooted characteristics of Mexican political life. With 106 votes in favor, 15 against and one abstention, the Senate gave the go-ahead to modify 29 articles of the Constitution.

Leftist lawmakers from the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) and Workers’ Party (PT) voted against the measures. The PRD claims that President Enrique Peña Nieto, of the PRI, is trying to railroad political reform and the restructuring of the energy sector through Congress without holding talks with its members concerning last-minute changes to the proposals.

Political reform is an important part of Peña Nieto’s drive to restructure Mexican society through a pre-negotiated alliance with the country’s three major parties called the Pact for Mexico, which also include changes to the education system and energy sector. On November 28, PRD leaders announced they were abandoning the pact after accusing Peña Nieto of secretly bargaining with the PAN for changes to his announced political and energy reforms.

As part of the political reform, Senators approved better election oversight through the creation of a Federal Electoral Institute (INE). The institute will also be in charge of drawing up new election districts, “tying the hands of the governors who have tried to shape local electoral boards to their tastes,” said PAN Senator Mariana Gómez del Campo.

Elections in any district will be declared invalid if candidates exceed their permitted campaign expenditures by a minimum of five percent in races where there is a five-percentage-point difference in results between contenders. The measure also calls for severe punishments for candidates who use illicit money to finance their campaigns.

With the reform’s passage, Mexican political parties will now be able to form coalition governments. But when this happens, it will be up to Congress to appoint the cabinet. Even when there is no coalition government, lawmakers will appoint the secretaries of treasury and foreign affairs.

But the highlight of the reform — and the most controversial point — is the direct election of lawmakers. Deputies can run for re-election for three consecutive terms (12 years in total) while senators can run for a second term (also for a total 12-year period). Senators in Mexico hold six-year terms while deputies are elected to three-year terms.

The proposal was modified to make it mandatory for senators and deputies to announce in the middle of their terms whether they intend to run for re-election for the same party. The original proposal had prevented lawmakers from switching parties while in office.

Changes will also be made in the federal public prosecutor’s office, which will now be called the National Prosecutor’s Office for Justice, an independent body that will no longer be part of the executive.

The political reform was scheduled to go to the Chamber of Deputies later Wednesday where it is also expected to be passed.

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