Myth vs Opportunity

Luis Rubio

There now is a president elect and it is high time for reconciliation. A new government, especially one specifically focused on changing the prevailing paradigm, has the unique opportunity to transform the country. To end the climate that characterizes Mexico and, above all, to build a new future. To build on what exists to successfully face the three issues that Andres Manuel López Obrador deemed key priorities in his campaign: economic growth, poverty and inequality.

Over the past three decades, we Mexicans went from an authoritarian political system aimed at controlling the population that did not tolerate competition, towards a competitive electoral regime but without institutions that generate certainty and protect the citizenry. However, the common denominator is the same: elections remain a bet where everything is at stake every six years. No serious country can survive such a sword of Damocles, permanently threatening political and economic stability.

In the regime emanating from the Revolution, the central figure was always that of the president, whose effective faculties far exceeded those expressed in the Constitution. The concentration of power, combined with the leadership of the control structure exercised by the PRI, went beyond the legal framework and gave the president constitutional meta-powers. Those powers were not only expressed in his own decisions, but also gave a central role to personal and group loyalties to the president, which were compensated with corruption and, therefore, impunity. That is the regime with which Mexicans have lived for almost one hundred years and that did not change even one bit with the governments of the PAN. That regime has impeded true development and has been prone to recurrent crises.

So central is the presidential figure that any election -or wrong decision- entails the risk of becoming a schism. The problem does not reside in a person but in that the presidency has such vast powers that it can affect the livelihood of all the population. In the past -in the PRI era that, at least in this regard, ended in 2000- the presidential succession was part of a contained process in which the outgoing president sought to limit the risks that his successor would break the canons and put the viability of the country at risk, as it happened after 1970. The opportunity today is to end this political regime without sacrificing what has been built to generate wealth and jobs like never before.

Things changed since 2000 because the powers inherent to the presidency diminished (as a result of the “divorce” of the presidency from the PRI), but quasi-autonomous powers appeared, such as the governors, while democratic competition brought about candidates who do not share the previously existing paradigms. The combination of excessive power and the absence of shared paradigms exacerbated the dislocation potential associated with a change of government, producing fears, imbalances and crises. Today there is an almost unique opportunity to leave all that in the past.

Mexico is no longer a marginal country in the international world. When the Mexican economy was closed and (almost) all the variables were under government control, the risks inherent to the succession could be contained. Today, in the context of an open financial system, an export-oriented economy and merciless competition to attract investment (in this, Mexican and foreign investment are indistinguishable) on which the welfare of the population depends, the capacity to contain the risks is simply non-existent. There is no country that can resist the onslaught of the markets when the key financial or political balances are broken. That’s what happened to the British Empire in 1992.

The Mexico of 2018 is very different from that of the middle of the last century, except in one factor: the political regime remains, in its essence, the same, but now, instead of generating certainty, it has become the source of imbalances, risks and, in fact, threats to stability. The vast powers allowed the government to act in a concerted manner, as happened during the era of so-called stabilizing development, but they also fostered all kinds of bureaucratic and political abuses that were perhaps tolerable in an era before the social networks. Today, with universal access to information, the capacity to control what was the essence of that system has disappeared.

The opportunity lies in carrying out the political reform that the previous system always rejected, to build effective checks and balances that give economic and political viability to the country for the next century, a true transformation. Only a strong president can achieve such a revolution.

Mexico needs a change of regime to build a different future, one without poverty and with equity. The country requires a political system based on the Rule of Law, which means only one thing: checks and balances that protect the citizen. To achieve the long-awaited development and end the climate of hatred and confrontation.