Beyond the result, what was impacting about the election in Spain two weeks ago was the civility of its contenders. Everything was impeccable: the final results were announced a mere four hours after the voting booths were closed; the losing candidate presented himself to the media to recognize his defeat, to congratulate the winner, and to offer to defend, as a member of the opposition, the constituencies and values of his party; and the winner invited all Spaniards to join together in a great national effort, to recognize their opponents, and to announce what the focus of his government would be from that moment on. There were no disputes, quarrels, or disagreements. The voters had spoken and the contenders had complied. All had subordinated themselves to the rules of the game in form and in substance. Civility.
Although none of this should have surprised us, Mexico’s situation is clearly different. The question that appears central to me is how the Spaniards arrived at the point where there are rules of the game that all actors accept and adhere to. In technical terms, what the Spaniards have achieved is the legitimacy of their system of government, which consists of the belief in the validity and acceptance of the rules of the game. That’s how we differ from them.
The nodular point of the Spanish process took place when, at a meeting on matters of prices and salaries months after the death of Franco, all of the political actors –those who had lived under the dictatorship (or had been part of it) as well as those who had been exiled after the Civil War- accepted the Franquist legality, that is, the existing rules of the game, as a platform for launching the democratic transformation. The fact of accepting this set of rules (off-putting and abusive as they were for the majority of participants at the meeting) implied submitting themselves to a political process that, they trusted, would furnish a new legal framework, a new constitution, and democratic game rules. The so-called “Moncloa Pact” was transcending because it implied consensus with respect to the process, not the result.
In Mexico we’ve been engaged in a circular process for decades because the political actors have not agreed upon (nor much less accepted) a set of rules of procedure, independent of the result. Rather, political actors have made a display of accepting the rules only if the result is favorable to them. The spectacle of López-Obrador in 2006 is a patent example of this, but unfortunately not the only one, as we can observe with the PAN in recent gubernatorial elections in Michoacán.
Acceptance of the rules of procedure is something fundamental to the development of civility. Given its absence in the country, the discussion is centered on the electoral, but the matter is broader. Some years ago I was impressed –actually, mesmerized- on observing how a child, surely no older than 3 or 4 years of age, flew out of a side street on his bicycle into a main thoroughfare in Tokyo without looking: the green light was all he needed to know and certainly was all that his parents had taught him. Behind the green light there was absolute recognition of the fact that all motorists stopped on the most important artery would wait until the lights changed before proceeding. The relevant point is that a society that respects traffic rules and regulations also respects electoral rules and vice versa: they are inseparable.
In essence, at least on the electoral plane, the matter of rules is a matter of power. It implies agreement on procedures but also especially on their legitimacy. It implies, like the Moncloa Pact, subordination without discussion to the rules, independently of the result. In Mexico we have not achieved resolving the dispute for power and this translates into the propensity for automatically discrediting the rules every time someone loses an election.
In the era of the PRI, the issue of power was resolved through the imposition of two rules that were “unwritten” but evident: on the one hand, the president is everyone’s undisputed and indisputable lord and master; on the other hand, it is valid to compete for succession as long as the first rule is not violated. It was a simple and effective mechanism that, however, did not emerge out of the blue. Its success was the product of the establishment of the rule and the capacity to make it stick. The latter was not automatic: it was only accomplished when Cárdenas exiledPlutarcoElías-Calles and submitted General Cedillo. Once the capacity to exact compliance with the rules was demonstrated, the system went into effect and functioned until the PRI ceased being representative of Mexican society and the unrepresented began to dispute the system’s legitimacy.
The democratic rules that have been adopted over the past decades have not enjoyed legitimacy because there has not been wider agreement among the political forces with respect to the question of power: procedures; the distribution of benefits, and recognizing the opposition as a real factor of representation. At present, whoever is in power disqualifies the opposition and those in the opposition tend to discredit the one in power, beginning with failing to recognize its legitimacy of origin.
I have no doubt that the great challenge of the upcoming years will be that of power. In past decades we have gone from a system founded on unwritten rules to one without rules. Today the challenge is to construct explicit rules to which everyone subordinates himself and this implies a pact on power. Mexico’s problem is not that there are no legislative majorities but one of legitimacy.
On achieving a power pact, everything else that does not function or that eats away at society begins to change. On there being clear rules, the actors can devote themselves to the discussion of the themes that affect us with a distinct focus: instead of life trickling away bit by bit in each discussion, we could enter into serious debates where the only thing up for grabs would be the immediate issue.
Currently, key themes for the development of the country such as public security, energy, and worker rights protection cannot be discussed because one of the actors maintains the force to impose his interests, without recognizing the formal power structure. That is, the so-called de facto powers (including the political parties) can veto or cancel any relevant debate because they are more powerful than the formally established powers. An agreement on formal power (the government) would allow strengthening the State in its entirety, beginning with it the subjugation process of the de facto powers: just like Cárdenas did in the thirties.
As happened in the Maximato (1928-1934), today the government is here, but the one who rules is out there. There is an urgent need for a pact that legitimizes the power of the government and the role of the political parties and that throws open the door, for real, to the stage of the institutional development of the country.