14 Months

Luis Rubio

At the beginning of the year 2000 Mexico was facing a crossroads. The electoral contest was taking shape, the electoral institutions had been duly installed, and the expectation, overly justified, was that the electoral jousts  would be clean, competitive and pacific. However, no one knew what the result of the election would be. That is, Mexico was entering what later was known as “democratic normalcy” where there is certainty with respect to process but not to the result, precisely contrary to the history of the XX century, in which the result was known by all from the moment a candidate was nominated. Mexico has now returned to the world of the uncertainty of the process as well as of the result, which opens an infinity of possibilities, most of these auguring ill.

When that notable year was beginning for Mexican politics, 2000, I wrote the following: “Perhaps the greatest of the sources of risk resides in the recollection of the political violence registered the last time   we witnessed an electoral process to elect a federal executive [1994], a highly destructive moment.  It is in this context that it remains to be elucidated whether the coming months will take us nearer to the Shakespearian or theChekhovian model. In his tragedies Shakespeare’s personages ended up achieving the revindication of a sense of justice, but all were dead in the end; in Chekhov’s tragedies, everyone ended up sad, disillusioned, angry, disenchanted, embattled, bitter, but alive. The conflicts inherent in Mexican society are not going to disappear overnight; but what we Mexicans require is that the management of politics brings us closer to Chekhov, because the alternative is simply unacceptable.”

Twenty-three years later, and fourteen months from the next election, the country has advanced in certain aspects, but has retrogressed in many others and, thanks to the bills advanced by the government in electoral matters (the famous “Plan B”), the probability of greater deterioration both in political as well as in security matters can no longer be discounted. To start with, the great accomplishments in electoral matters -certainty in terms of the process, but not the result- could well be reverting for the sake of attempting to impose a result independent of the will of the electorate. A grand citizen triumph -perhaps the grandest in Mexican history- could be seeing its last days.

And that is so much more important in the light of the little that Mexican democracy has advanced in all the remaining areas. Although it advanced in electoral matters from 1997 on, the country could only with difficulty call itself democratic when no more than   58% of the electorate calls itself citizens (versus the 42% that assumes itself to be “the people”), a bare majority willing (and able) to defend their rights.  More to the point, no one could seriously argue that the country is basking in peace, that it enjoys an effective system of government, justice “swift and expeditious” and transparency and accountability on the part of responsible authorities, Clearly, things have changed, in many cases for the better, with respect to the era of the “hard” PRI, but Mexico does not qualify as democratic under  conventional international gauges.

Backward or forward? That is the predicament. Backward, the road marked by the new electoral setup advanced by the Executive branch would imply grave deterioration in democratic matters, but above all a growing risk of violence. Not even the shrewdest supporters of the regime could argue that the country has improved in economic, political, justice or security matters. The governmental narrative is verbose, but advances in the real world are nonexistent, and all of that accumulates over time to create an expanding and uncertain milieu that is more prone to hardly desirable scenarios.

Fourteen months to the next elections are many months of high politics and low passions.  Time for the candidates to take form, both the one of the government’s party as well as that of the opposition, time for the society to express itself in all its semblances and characteristics, a circumstance of a pluralistic society that does not accept the imposition of labels or fallacious skewing and disqualifiers. Time for the citizenry to shoulder their role and responsibility as corresponds to a free and sovereign society.

The National Electoral Institute (INE) -that weighty and complex entity- came into being thus due to the enormous uncertainty that existed, due to the potential for conflict that each   electoral contest generated and because, in the last instance, the citizenry had not been able or would not have wanted to take on the responsibility of limiting the abuse of the political parties or of the government. Almost three decades later, the citizenry must assume that role to guarantee that the process will be clean, competitive and pacific and that the result, whatever that may be, will be respected by all of the participants. That is the citizenry’s moment: with its majority vote it should guarantee the results being overwhelming and indisputable.

Shakespeare or Chekhov: therein lies the dilemma. As in any democracy that is respected, some will not be content with the result, but all should emerge alive, respected and duly recognized. With or without the INE, it would be best for the citizenry itself to guarantee it.