The Need for Reform in Mexico’s Congress

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Here’s a link to my AQBlog article “The Need for Reform in Mexico’s Congress”, published on October 6th, 2010
http://www.americasquarterly.org/node/1858

Here’s a copy of it:

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Pedro Ferriz de Con (one of the most influential voices in Mexico’s radio airwaves) and I rarely see eye-to-eye on a number of issues. However, the dire need for a more efficient Mexican Congress seems to place us on somewhat common paths. 

For about a year now, Ferriz de Con has been rallying support for his “intellectual revolution,” a movement mostly focused on eliminating party-list proportional representation in the Mexican Congress.  His plight gained public support in late 2009 and early 2010 when the Juanitas scandal was unveiled. 

For those who have forgotten or did not hear about this, the Juanitas scandal refers to a series of women who ran for Congress last year (through direct and proportional election) only to fill gender equality quotas and then cede their seats to their husbands, siblings and other contacts (all male) soon after. They were called Juanitas as a reference to Rafael Acosta Ángeles “Juanito,” another pseudo politician who ran for representation of the Iztapalapa delegation in Mexico City under the promise that he would give this position to Clara Brugada after the elections.  The difference was that the Juanitas did not make their intentions to resign public until after the elections.

The Juanito and the Juanitas incidents were embarrassing moments in our political history. For a moment, civil society protested by supporting Ferriz de Con’s intentions to oppose proportional representation and inefficient government.  But soon after, people went back to their daily obligations and forgot about these diputada replacements who nobody voted for and who shamefully continue to legislate in today’s Congress.

On September 23, the intellectual revolution got a second boost when Julio Godoy Toscano, a PRD party member wanted by federal authorities for suspected close ties with organized crime, was sworn in as a diputado thanks to a legal technicality (amparo) and the collusion of the PRI and PRD in the Lower House. Presumably, Godoy Toscano hid inside the trunk of a car to get past security at the legislature and take the oath, thus receiving  fuero constitucional—a twisted legal resource that makes diputados, senadores and other publicly elected figures exempt from prosecution. 

Godoy being sworn in is yet another mockery of our political system. Clearly, our congresistas have lost sight of the supposed mission of representing the interests of those who elected them.  Protecting and harboring a suspected criminal by making him a congressman is simply beyond belief, even for Mexico. 

The day after Godoy took the oath, Ferriz turned on the microphone in his 6:45 am show and once again called civil society to join his cause.  He clearly had reasons to keep pushing. Due to popular frustration over Godoy’s antics, the intellectual revolution now has around 3 million supporters nationwide (this number will surely continue to grow).

I agree with Ferriz de Con that at one point in time Congress lost sight of why civil society created it. I also believe that there are too many diputados and senadores and they could do as bad a job as they do now with a Congress half its size. 

But the main problem with Congress is not the proportional electoral system. The real issue has more to do with accountability. There is no real punishment for missing congressional sessions.  No one limits the salary raises they give themselves. Nobody forces congresistas to read (let alone understand) the legislation they vote on. There is no obligatory legal training for diputados or senadores under the excuse that the Congress represents all people (not just the educated elite or the legal profession).

In fact, congresistas don’t even have to hire a legal advisor to help them understand the legal implications of the laws they pass.  This of course, results in a backlog at the Supreme Court of Justice. Justices spend most of their time rendering congressionally-passed laws unconstitutional. This creates a legal system filled with holes for criminals and deviants to navigate through.  Unfortunately there is no failing grade for faulty or useless legislation.

And as long as we cling on to the “effective suffrage, no re-election” ideal from 100-year-old revolution, there is no real incentive for our legislators to change the system and make their role more efficient and useful.

My suggestion for Ferriz: besides trying to get rid of the plurinominales, add these more serious and more relevant challenges to your effort to improve congress and you’ll have one more follower for your intellectual revolution.

*Arjan Shahani is a contributing blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. He lives in Monterrey, Mexico, and is an MBA graduate from Thunderbird University and Tecnológico de Monterrey and a member of the International Advisory Board of Global Majority—an international non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of non-violent conflict resolution.

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