Luis Rubio

Two philosophies of power divide the world: one seeks its concentration to guarantee that the State has full powers to advance equality, while the other seeks its decentralization to ensure the freedom of citizens. The first, originally articulated by Rousseau, is the favorite of governments that aim to put themselves above the citizenry. Hence the notion that the head of the government is the sole representative of the people. Inevitably, these governments tend to become tyrannical. The second philosophy, articulated by John Locke, aims at building counterweights to power to ensure that the consecration of a tyrannical government is impossible. Montesquieu formalized this philosophy with his approach to a structure of divided government (executive, legislative and judicial), with a system of limits where each branch balances the others. Clearly, these are explicitly contradictory views.

In the last hundred years, Mexico has seen its governing philosophy evolve. In the constituent period, diverse currents -liberal, conservative, authoritarian, unionist, democratic, anarchist and everything else- coexisted, until an agreement was reached in the form of the constitutional document that ended up being adopted in 1917, much of whose content was derived from the liberal constitution of 1857. In the following decades, the centralizing vision that characterized the Cardenista era took shape and was strengthened as the country advanced in its economic development. The student movement of 1968 and then the 1985 earthquake shook the political system, giving rise to the politico-electoral disputes of the eighties and, from there on, to the series of both economic and political reforms that laid the foundations for an open economy and a political system that aspires to be fully democratic.

It is important to note that the political-economic changes of recent decades, especially the political ones, did not emerge from a left-right axis. In the political sphere in particular, the calls for democracy and the demand to limit presidential power originated in the student movement and was supported -in time- by the PAN, whose very origin was a reaction to the consolidation of the PRI system.

The philosophical evolution has been extraordinary, and it would have been naive to assume that a counterrevolution like the one championed by the President would not occur. Since its inauguration in 2018, the current government has been committed not only to concentrating power, but also to eliminating any loopholes that would prevent or limit the exercise of power. The elimination of institutions, the financial starvation of some of these and the de facto neutralization of others (especially by not appointing replacements when their members’ terms expired, as in the INAI, the COFECE and now the Electoral Tribunal) are all examples of a pattern which is easy to discern. The presidential bill to formalize the elimination of these and other autonomous bodies, which the President justifies in terms of cost (they are “onerous,” he said), in reality is the product of a vision of power that excludes the citizenry and privileges the unrestricted exercise of power by the President.

In the Soviet era, many of whose jokes were like Mexico’s, it was said that the difference between an authoritarian government and a democratic one was very simple: in an authoritarian system politicians make fun of citizens, while in a democratic system It happens exactly the other way around. It is not difficult to understand the preference for an authoritarian system in which a person -in this case the President- systematically dedicates himself to excluding, disqualifying, ignoring and attacking all those who do not align with his vision of power and life.

Looking ahead there are two factors that are important. The first is how the two candidates will react to the presidential proposal, revealing their preferences and propensities. Will they align themselves with the citizenry or with tyranny? The second is regarding Congress: will it exercise its responsibility, or will it continue to accept being railroaded by the executive, as if it were a mere appendage?

In 1997, when the PRI lost its absolute majority in the Congress for the first time, the opposition boasted about the new reality (“together we are more than you,” Porfirio Muñoz Ledo snapped at then-President Zedillo), but dedicated itself to opposing each and any initiative that came from the executive. Instead of a counterweight, the Mexican Congress between 1997 and 2012 was an almost irreducible wall of opposition. The Congress of Peña’s presidency succumbed to direct cash payments that bought the votes. The current Congress has been submissive to a fault.

The big opportunity begins next September and October, respectively. Then Mexico will have a new Congress and a new government. After mixed experiences of alternation of political parties in government, various styles of Presidents in power and a pathetic performance overall, the opportunity to build an effective system of counterweights dedicated to co-governing will be unique: to build a new scaffolding of governance that enjoys full legitimacy, supported by the three branches of government, all committed to asserting their functions and responsibilities. In other words, to get out of the morass in which Mexicans find themselves to enter a new stage of development.