Event Report: Mexico's Political Reform and Electoral Transformation

March 4, 2014, 2:37 p.m.

The following report is based off of a talk hosted by the Atlantic Council, entitled "Mexico’s Political Reform and Electoral Transformation."


On February 28, the Atlantic Council hosted an event titled “Mexico’s Political Reform and Electoral Transformation.” The event brought together three justices of the Federal Electoral Tribunal of Mexico (including its Presiding Judge), the Vice Chair of the US Federal Election Commission, and IFES’s President and CEO Bill Sweeney to discuss the content of the recent electoral reforms and their implications for Mexico's future.


During his introductory remarks, Mexican Ambassador to the United States H.E. Eduardo Medina Mora framed the reforms as a “compromise to regain trust in the electoral system.” To Medina Mora, in order for Mexican democracy to flourish, Mexicans must believe in the ballot box, and for that to happen “votes have to count and they have to be counted.” The new electoral reforms in Mexico tackle issues from gender parity to media regulation to funding limits. They allow for the re-election of incumbent legislators for the first time since the 1920s. They also enshrine in law the Federal Electoral Tribunal’s right to nullify fraudulent elections, a serious indicator of the Tribunal’s authority.


Chief Justice of the Federal Electoral Tribunal (Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación, TEPJF) H.E. José Alejandro Luna Ramos spoke of the need to create an active Tribunal that resolves disputes as they occur, rather than waiting for complaints to arrive and resolving them after the election results are announced. Among the TEPJF's most important duties is the task of resolving challenges to the constitutionality of electoral practices. In addition to handling allegations of fraud, the TEPJF also handles cases in which electoral practices in autonomous indigenous communities conflict with the Mexican constitution. For example, some indigenous communities have long-held customs that deny women the right to vote. The TEPJF has the authority to force these communities to comply with the Mexican constitution and allow women to vote.


H.E. María del Carmen Alanis spoke about how stronger electoral authorities can check the various political forces in Mexico. Alanis reiterated Luna Ramos’s emphasis on the importance of being proactive, explaining that the Tribunal’s job is constant and operates at all three levels of government: national, state, and local. A testament to this proactivity, the Tribunal has adjudicated over 41,000 cases since November 2006.


One of the successes of the most recent round of electoral reforms was a provision that women must comprise 50 percent of a party’s list of candidates (party lists must alternate between men and women, preventing parties from putting their women in the back of the list). Mexico is only the third country in Latin America to enact a gender parity law for its national legislature and is proud to have the highest percentage of women in the Senate and fourth-highest in the House of Representatives of any Latin American country. While the previous round of reforms had increased the minimum quota of women from 30 percent of the list to 40 percent, parties were avoiding the quota by holding primary elections, a loophole that is now closed.


H.E. Salvador Olimpo Nava expanded on the issue of balancing the rights of indigenous communities to incorporate cultural customs into their electoral processes with the universal human rights enshrined in the Mexican constitution. For example, some communities limit suffrage to those who have worked a certain number of years in the community, which excludes many young voters, and others discriminate against elderly voters. Nava defends striking down these practices as unconstitutional, using the metaphor that if you distilled democracy to the atomic level, it would consist of human rights.


The Hon. Ann Ravel, Vice Chair of the US Federal Election Commission, reflected on the Mexican reforms and the need for electoral reform in the United States. Ravel commented that a lack of trust also permeates the American electorate due to administrative deadlock and a Supreme Court unsympathetic to campaign finance reform. To Ravel, the Mexican case reaffirms that electoral reform can only advance when there is a policy case, political will, and the budget and personnel to implement the changes. In the United States, the political will for campaign finance reform is currently lacking at the national level.


Though Mexico still has many institutional reforms to address, political and economic, these reforms will be instrumental in consolidating democracy and advancing human rights countrywide. By advancing the cause of women’s suffrage and addressing dilemmas of indigenous justice, the Federal Electoral Tribunal has already played an important role in ensuring Mexican elections are free and fair. The new reforms will allow it to further delineate boundaries for electoral practices, combat fraud, and advance human rights with more effectiveness, and to provide an example to other electoral tribunals in Latin America and around the world.



(Image Credit: timeanddate.com)

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