Checks and Balances

         Luis Rubio

One way of thinking about what is to come is to contrast what the new government says that it wants to achieve and what it in fact proposes to do. The case for austerity is illustrative: nearly the first priority of the new Congress was the Law of Austerity, followed by that of compensatory payments to civil servants, as an axis of its strategy. It is obvious, as a starting point, that no one can be against austerity  in principle; however, it is relevant to ask what the objective of the austerity is, and how it is to be put into practice: it is not the same to raise the efficiency and efficacy of the governmental function     (something desirable and for which there is a great lot of ground to cover) and it is something quite distinct to submit other branches of government by means of expenditure cutbacks (above all those that confer on the Congress the capacity of functioning as a counterweight) or to penalize  good functionaries by reducing their incomes. Two very distinct objectives, although both are equally consistent with austerity. The question is not an idle one: what is proposed to be achieved and what ensures the citizenry that this is adequate and necessary.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador won the presidential election in Mexico with a percentage of the vote to which we had all become unaccustomed. None of his predecessors, from the nineties to date, had the level of votes or legislative support and legitimacy of mandate that these entail. For all of these, the Congress and the diverse State entities that enjoy autonomy served as counterweights, at least at some of the most critical moments. The Congresses, from 1997 forward, did not enjoy a partisan majority and, at many times, impeded the advance of presidential initiatives. In reality, their opposition was almost always rooted in short-term political misgivings to a greater degree than in a careful reading of the bills that were defeated, but now it is not even probable that this will occur. Nonetheless, there is great value is doing so.

The Mexican political transition that initiated with the 1996 Electoral Reform resolved the problem of access to power, but not that of the way Mexicans should be governed. In fact, much of the deterioration that has come about in recent decades -in security, economic growth and corruption -is due, nearly exclusively, to the political disorder deriving from the defeat of the PRI in 2000.  The end of the PRI-Presidency binomial brought with it all types of consequences, many of these negative: immense transfers (and waste) of funds to governors without any accountability; occurrences instead of government strategy; systematic deterioration of the institutional structures (procuring justice, the police, Offices of the Attorneys-General, customs); and, in general, the collapse of civility in day-to-day treatment among citizens, among politicians, and among both. Today it is not strange to hear a Mexican, on finding himself abroad, asking whether he can safely go out to walk in the street. That question would have been ridiculous some decades ago. The anger and dysfunctionality are not the product of chance. The question is how to carry out the changes that Mexico needs, rather than to go back in history to impoverish the country.

The solution that can be sensed in what AMLO has been doing and proposing consists of centralizing power through means such as virtual proconsuls in the states; the re-conception of the Army as supervisor of all affairs at the regional level; the reduction of the salaries of first-level civil servants; the creation of the distribution of programs of transfers to youths, the elderly and other susceptible groups, and the reduction of Congressional and Senate budgets. Centralization of power is not something that is good or bad in itself; the matter concerns centralizing for what. What the actions of the President in his early day suggest is that this is about a means to eliminate all dissent and to enhance loyalty.   However, the important part is not the accumulation of power in itself, but rather whether it can be changed for the better, not for change’s sake.

The mandate that AMLO received is to change the reality, but not just any kind of reality would result in an improvement of the living conditions of the most vulnerable population to which it would devote itself or to the creation of a better future in general.  Good wishes are not enough: there are problems of extreme complexity, beginning with that of security, that require careful planning.  Clearly, there are solutions, as demonstrated by some successful exercises at the state level, but an integral solution is going to require a plan that is well articulated by professionals and a willingness to build for the long term. Instead of this, what we are currently observing is a series of actions, not always coherent with each other, to angry clashes among groups close to the President, such as the mistreatment given to the Army, blaming it for all of the ills while, at the same time, turning it into the core of the strategy. The country, and AMLO, require long-term solutions. If he, with all the power and the mandate behind him, does not promote these solutions, the country will end up worse than it was.

Instead of cuts to the Congress, effective checks and balances are required that aid the President himself to ensure that his proposals will be liable to changing the reality for the good. Checks and balances do not diminish the presidential power but do oblige it to produce projects that can improve the life of the population. That is the mandate that appears evident in the past election; here’s hoping the new President interprets it thus.