And Then What?

 Luis Rubio

Electoral competitions are (almost) like a soccer game: they give free rein to emotions, wagers and illusions. The citizenry turns itself over to the process and (at least one part of it) participating with overwhelming zeal. However, it is after Election Day is over when the true challenge begins: that of governing. And neither of the two candidates for the Mexican presidency as of today is endowed with the conditions required to be able to exercise their functions in an effective manner.

The candidates themselves are not the problem. Each of these women have their virtues and defects, strengths and weaknesses.  The problem is the nature of the Mexican political system that, on the one hand, confers extraordinary (in point of fact, excessive) powers on the presidency and, on another, leaves the entire rest of the country up in the air: without natural mechanisms of interaction among the three branches of government,  without a structure of coordination between the president and the governors and without instruments to achieve public security and without a functioning justice system for the citizenry. That is, Mexicans have a primitive system that does not dovetail with the reality of the country and of the present-day world and that does not fulfill its most elemental responsibilities.

Another way of saying this is that the country entered a process of democratization without having transformed and secured its most basic institutions, such as the government, justice and security. Democratization commenced in 1968, but it took shape with the growing electoral competition of the eighties and nineties and, thanks to the efforts to advance electoral reform up to the most fundamental of these, that of 1996. Notwithstanding this, in contrast with other nations -above all in Asia and in southern Europe-, which underwent transformation during those same years, Mexico accelerated its pace toward the open and dependable election of its governors without being able to rely on an effective government, a consolidated justice system and a successful security regimen.  And Mexicans are now paying the price of that blindness.

On the first of October of next year the new government will be inaugurated. Even if the electoral process were to end up being a model of probity (as it has been since 1997) and everyone were to abide by the result, whoever that may be, a new president will be sworn into office and will find herself facing circumstances that are in good measure unprecedented and not due solely to the fact of her being a woman.

First, the personnel with whom she will find herself surrounded will be very low in quality due to the rules decreed by the outgoing president and that disincentivized  the employment of experienced and competent personnel; second, she will become privy to  that the fiscal accounts are in virtual bankruptcy and that only by abandoning all of the non-viable and unsustainable projects driven by the government, including  contributions to the bottomless pit called Pemex, will she be in possession of some funds to be capable of functioning; third, she will have a divided Congress, one already decided to work WITH the government and not FOR the President, a difference that is not merely semantic; fourth, a generalized disenchantment due to the destroyed expectations and to the mistrust engendered toward the new person responsible for the government; and, fifth, a security crisis that threatens to become uncontainable. In a word, she will suddenly realize that the cost of the outgoing government will have been dramatic and that it left the country without easy options.

Her great advantage, supposing that the U.S. economy continues to march to a rhythm like that of the present, will lie in that exports continue to generate a wealth of demand for the general functioning of the economy. That would provide a small breath of fresh air, but it would also earmark the limits of what can be done. The easy part, because that is the way that it is imagined by the politicians who are detached from the dilemmas affecting those involved in the real world of the economy, will be to propose a fiscal reform carried out to avoid the government’s having to make any sacrifice on passing along to the citizenry the cost of the unproductivity and inefficiency of playthings such as the refinery in Dos Bocas, Tabasco, the Maya toy train and the fantasy airport. She will very soon realize, or should realize, that the equation is backward: the government must be transformed for the country to prosper.

All of this under great pressure because it will go against the current. The promises of the outgoing government will have proven to be mere figments of the imagination and the supposed political, economic and institutional strengths to be nothing more than a chimera. If the winner is Claudia Sheinbaum, her difficulty will be greater because she will not only be obligated to break with the persona of her predecessor, but also with the entirety of the spell under which he navigated under with no achievement. If the winner is Xóchitl Gálvez, her challenge will be to take advantage of the pathetic reality lo set free the citizenry’s strengths and resources that were held in check for such a long time, and that enormous entrepreneurial talent lying behind every “aspirationist” (AMLO dixit). Neither will have it easy.

But none of that will be sufficient if institutions are not built and consolidated that are not susceptible to being dismantled as the present government has done. No one, not even the most dogmatic of Morena-party followers, will accept a change if there is no clarity of course and certainty that the rules of the game will remain in force. And therein lies the true dilemma of Mexico: to erect the scaffolding of a country that can aspire to a better future and to be able to count on the elements to achieve it.