Advantages and Disadvantages

Luis Rubio

According to a tweet that went viral, in the year 2192 the British Prime Minister flies to Brussels to ask for a new extension of the fatal date of the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union.  “No one remembers where that tradition originated, but each year it attracts many tourists from all the confines of the Earth.” The complex negotiation that has characterized these two entities, Britain and the E.U., lends itself to all kinds of derision because it reflects a profound institutionality that has called for the following of steps, procedures, collegiate bodies and parliamentary votes and of the diverse legislative and judicial instances of each of the parties. That institutionality, as the tweet suggests, can be paralyzing, but it possesses the virtue of conferring permanent stability and predictability on daily life and on the decisions of every person and family, in all of their facets, that they make throughout their days.

The constitutional matter is a suggestive example: in Mexico, constitutional changes have been, historically, the sport of the six-year presidential term during which, as anyone could observe in the reforms of the Peña-Nieto administration, the governors competed to be first in attaining the approval of their legislatures in terms of the amendments that the president desired, in order to be in his good graces. The objective was not the purpose of the reform, but rather to endorse the authority of the president. With AMLO, this process has been refined, in that not even the governors are necessary, given the majority that the Morena Party commands in nineteen of the federal entities: a mere instruction emitted is sufficient for approving the disposition issued by the executive branch.

In contrast, in countries with great institutions, a constitutional amendment process is extraordinarily difficult. In Denmark for example, a constitutional amendment requires, first, the approval of Parliament, later a parliamentary election and then the vote of the new Parliament. In addition to the latter, the support is insisted on of at least 40% of the population in a referendum among the entire population in voting age. That is to say, it is a tedious process, lengthy and uncertain, designed precisely so that any constitutional change that is carried out be the product of popular consent and not a partisan, governmental or bureaucratic imposition.

In India, an enormous, relatively poor and extraordinarily complex, but a deeply democratic country, the advance of an legislative bill requires innumerable procedures and political and bureaucratic layers but, when it is approved, it enjoys wide political support, thus legitimacy and permanence. Those structures render it difficult for presidents and prime ministers to act, but they guarantee the stability of the citizenry.

Of course, one part of that series of structures and processes allows the participation of special interests concealed behind the procedures and mechanisms designed to merely protect themselves and those are the ones that President López Obrador wished to eliminate with the massive firings in the ministries at the beginning of his term. However, at least in theory, the structures surrounding the acts of a government in a system of divided government (that is, with separate branches: judiciary, executive and the legislature) are supposed to work as checks and balances to ensure that no one can abuse power or overreach.

In the PRI era, Mexico was always referred to as a highly institutionalized country, a statement deriving from the way that public affairs were conducted, the discipline exhibited by the politicians and the compliance with the procedures. Time went on to prove that the supposed strength of the institutions was a myth. As soon as the hard presidency collapsed, all of its instruments of control, persecution and imposition at its command, adherence to the forms, obedience to orders from on high, the subordination to the presidency of politicians, governors and citizens and, above all, respect for the procedures and formal rules, all disappeared.

From a country that was apparently strictly attached to certain rules of the game (the most relevant of these always the “implicit” ones), Mexico’s proceeded to be a society without rules, without self-discipline and with an infinity of groups and persons willing to employ any method at all to advance their interests and objectives. Lately, the country has gone back to the old system of personalized imposition.

The institutional weakness that characterizes Mexico made possible the great and transcendental reforms between the eighties and 2018, because presidential power, utilizing changeable methods according to the moment and the circumstances, was sufficient to modify the legal regime in ways that Europe and the U.S. would never have been able to achieve. The considerable advantage of the lack of institutional strength was exactly that: the government could act with determination to advance its own projects as well as to respond in the face of exceptional circumstances, such as the crises of some decades ago. In the same fashion, institutional weakness has made it possible to dismantle everything that the current president has wanted to.

Permanence is only guaranteed by solid institutions, the quintessential requisite of civilization and democracy.