Improving Our Electoral System
Following Mexico’s recent midterm elections, here are a few thoughts.
It seems that many people are pleased that the campaigns have come to an end. And it’s not because they are necessarily satisfied with what the campaigns or the results; but rather because the merciless bombardment of radio and television ads has finally come to an end. The slew of radio and television spots is the most annoying expression of an electoral system that no longer makes sense.
Mexico had good reason to change its election rules after Jose Lopez Portillo won the presidency in 1976 with 100% of the vote.
After six reforms, by 1997 Mexico had a much fairer system that allowed parties to alternate in office for the first time in the history. Cuauhtémoc Cardenas won the mayor’s race in Mexico City in 1997 and Vicente Fox was elected president in 2000.
But the political elite could not be satisfied and continued to make changes with the reforms of 2007 and 2014. Unfortunately, the last two reforms reversed the positive direction. They prohibited, for example, the purchase of radio and television time for political messages and confiscated, without compensation, three minutes of every hour of radio and television airtime.
The result was not only a blow to Mexican radio and television stations, with foreign cable TV and the Internet exempted from most rules and restrictions, but political debate was limited to what fits into a 30-second spot.
We have reached the limits of the absurd. Paying to place a political advertisement on a wall or fence is legal. But that all changes if the fence happens to be in a soccer stadium. Why? Because there are television cameras in the stadiums and we are only allowed to see the propaganda imposed on us in the time slots that the authorities expropriate from the media.
The current legislation also censors opinions and criticism, creates complex rules that the courts themselves have interpreted in often contradictory ways, and promotes incentives to challenge the outcome of all elections. The end result is that the elections are not decided at the polls by the voters, but in the courts by lawyers.
The saturation of political advertising has had negative consequences for all concerned. The main point is that it has irritated voters instead of presenting candidate proposals. In the process the public opinion of Mexico’s political system and its members has plummeted.
Mexicans are ready for democracy. There is no need to tell us what we can or cannot see on television. We have the capacity to listen to arguments and make our own decisions.
We have had eight political reforms since 1977 and the latter two have made things worse. The 2015 election campaign clearly illustrated problems that must be corrected.
Here are some proposals:
• Political parties cease their addictive dependence on public resources. Public financing of parties has become, in many cases, more of a business venture than an instrument for advancing political efforts of Mexican citizens.
• Eliminate government-controlled advertising spots and allow individuals and parties to freely purchase radio and television time to express their political views.
• Simplify the electoral rules. Today neither the National Electoral Institute (INE) nor the courts agree on interpretations.
• Remove political censorship. It’s absurd to prohibit politicians from raising certain questions. Politicians should be held to the same rules on libel or moral damage as any other citizen should be applied; nothing more and nothing less.
• Eliminate the practice of heading directly to the courts to resolve electoral processes. The current legislation creates so many incentives to challenge election results that you’re at an incredible disadvantage if you don’t.
The point is that we have to give freedom and leeway to the system rather than tie it down with rules, prohibitions, and fines. Politics is an art that is best exercised in freedom.