Why Doesn’t It Work?

                                                      Luis Rubio

Now that we are full swing, on all flanks, in the process of presidential succession, it is important to reflect on the opportunities and risks that the country is confronting. The external context is not particularly generous: the NAFTA negotiations have not advanced in terse fashion and the upcoming U.S. Congressional primary elections will surely reopen much of the anti-Mexican discourse that has characterized the Trump administration from the time of his campaign. In the domestic ambit, turbulence is ceaseless, all of which inflates the level of conflict in view of the moment when the voters will decide who it is who will govern us.

In addition to this, we are facing real risks concerning which, above the strategies that the candidates themselves and their parties come to employ in matters of the social networks and manipulation of the electorate (all legitimate and increasingly normal in election processes), other interests -internal or external- devote themselves to influencing the proceedings due to reasons extraneous to those of direct interest to the electorate. Today it is clear that there were external interventions in the British elections that decided on the so-called Brexit, in the U.S. elections Trump won, and in the Catalonian referendum. There are no grounds to suppose that Mexico’s case will be distinct; one must not forget that Mexico, like Berlin and Vienna and other strategic places in the Cold War era, were protagonists in the intrigues swirling among the powers.

The question is how the external interact with the internal interests. That is, who benefits from or is damaged by these deceits and collusions. One obvious perspective is whether the interest of the U.S. is the same as that of Trump and, in any case, how this will play out in the elections to come. I am absolutely sure that the U.S. national interest privileges the stability and prosperity of Mexico and that this interest extends beyond the specific candidates. It is not similarly evident to me that Trump’s interest is the same: in his proclivity for advancing a public agenda that many people in the U.S. reject, he can end up propitiating, consciously or not, results that do not coincide with the general interest of his country. From this perspective, I estimate that Trump, to a much greater extent than NAFTA, will comprise an integral part of the Mexican presidential election.

I return now to the opportunities and risks: for many, this election is especially sensitive because what is involved is of enormous magnitude. Part of what explains this appreciation lies in the nature of the reforms undertaken during Peña´s presidency (above all in educative and energy matters), touching upon as they do two or three nodal precepts of the 1917 Mexican Constitution. Another component of the explication resides in the substantial loss of prestige accompanying the exiting president due to the corruption and his dearth of leadership, lending credence to the numbers characterizing López Obrador in the polls.

But the greatest sensitivity does not dwell in the specific factors that denoted the outgoing government, whether the reforms that it promoted or the way in which it conducted the affairs of State, but rather in the immense power that the presidency concentrates. Concentrated power utilized for carrying out positive changes –those driving greater economic growth in the long term, better quality-of-life levels and increased general well-being- should be welcome; but the self-same power employed for destroying and dividing is in the end pernicious under any yardstick. Mexico’s main problem –which may be observed since the invention of the “non-heritable six-year monarchy” in the immortal words of Cosío Villegas- is that one never knows what the next government will do. And that engenders uncertainty and even fear.

In a recent article, Janan Ganesh compared the U.K. with other developed nations. His foremost argument is that England is typified by a system that concentrates the power in the Parliament, allowing it to effect huge reforms but reforms that, at the same time, can be bad, everything depending on the degree of excellence of the Prime Minister at any given moment. That characterization, unusual for a developed country, poses a contrast with the U.S. (where Trump has encountered colossal difficulties in making headway with his agenda due to the solidity of the checks and balances) but also with France, where the immensity of the presidency is curtailed by the commanding mayors and extra-parliamentary powers such as the unions and the bureaucracy.  Ganesh resolves his commentary by remarking that the pathetic state of the U.S. infrastructure, the resistance to change of the French and the scarcity of reforms in Italy mirror infirm central governments that are curbed by strong institutions that protect the citizens above everything else.

In Mexico we lack strong institutions that protect the citizenship and we do not have world-class statesmen capable of bringing the population on board for the sake of integral and evenhanded development. If the candidates endeavor to achieve a stable 2019 they had better begin to respond from now on to the cry for certainty and clarity of course which the citizenry demands and requires.