Lessons behind a choice
In this life we must learn from all sorts of experiences, both personal as well as from others. I just returned from a trip to the US, and the recent presidential election in that country offers us different lessons we must take into account to improve our growing democracy.
To begin with and in spite of a very competitive campaign, only a few minutes after the computer system established the victory of Barack Obama over his opponent, Republican Mitt Romney, the system itself got in touch with the winner to congratulate him—in fact, the one hour waiting period felt way too long to some election commentators.
Immediately, Romney gave a very moving speech, worthy of a presidential candidate, accepting his defeat live on a national network and wishing Obama success in his mission to guide the country through the challenges ahead. In the end, the welfare and stability of his nation were far more important than any personal or party ambition.
Both in relative and absolute terms, the election campaign in the United States was far more hard-fought than our campaign in July, since the difference in votes between Obama and Romney was just over three million. In spite of that, there were no post-election conflicts: no one denied the effectiveness of the process or threatened to make public demonstrations; everyone involved accepted the result as much as the people following them and all because of a key element: reliance in the electoral system and trust in the authorities that manage it.
This happened in spite of the use of unorthodox methods, such as photocopying ballots, accepting any ID as valid instead of the official voter’s ID, or in the case of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, a signed oath stating that the voter was a citizen.
Lack of trust is precisely the biggest problem in Mexico when it comes to moving forward in the growth of our democracy. We have advanced in the last couple of decades, but our system is far too complex and expensive for a country with so many deficiencies and economic challenges.
Our general presidential election budget has increased significantly in the past 12 years: In 2000, it amounted to P$6,900 million, in 2006, P$12,900 million and in 2012 we spent nearly P$16 mil million. This is both unsustainable and unfair.
If we divide the total election budget by the real number of people who cast a vote, the cost of each vote in 2012 amounted to P$317. In the United States, the cost per vote, according to some calculations, is in the vicinity of 15 USD per vote, and we are talking about a far wealthier nation.
However, a study made by the American State Organization (Organización de Estados Americanos) revealed that the problem in our country isn’t so much about the cost of each vote during elections, but rather the high expenses that represent the subsidy of political parties, in spite of the bills paid by all of us Mexican people.
Citizen involvement in the election process in Mexico has been very successful because it generates credibility, but the political performance still generates doubt regarding transparency, legality and fair play during election periods. The unparalleled wastefulness and inefficiency of the electoral authorities has even attracted the attention of international experts.
Aside from this, lack of clarity can make campaigns last for years, with publicity abusively subsided from public resources, used by those who aspire to move to Los Pinos (Mexico’s presidential residence).
Another major problem in our democracy, a recoiling element in fact, was the election reform of 2007, where citizens were banned from purchasing air time in the media to convey political opinions.
Today, this remains the exclusive right of political parties and their candidates, who confiscated a million web spaces to transmit an equal amount of shallow publicity spots: 44 million messages were transmitted, all of which took 15 million broadcast minutes of radio and television transmissions— equal to 28 years of political propaganda. The cost of this ban for the audience, the media, the announcers and the consumer, both monetary and opportunity-wise, is immeasurable and proved beneficial only to the individual political parties. And even then, we wonder, what is the real advantage for each party when their rivals are doing the exact same thing?
Finally, the election process in the United States gives us an idea that maybe having too many options is not beneficial to the state. In the U.S., there are only two party alternatives nationwide, each with a very defined and contrasting profile, so the choice for the voter is clear and the presidential mandate is much more convincing.
Successful authors like Barry Schwartz, tell us that having too many choices does not increase consumer satisfaction, in this case, voter satisfaction — but I will talk about this subject in another entry soon.
In the past forty years, Mexico has faced lots of political reforms, some very good and others not so good; our democracy is still a long way from being acceptable. U.S. democracy is not perfect either, but at least it’s far more efficient and satisfactory than ours. We should never turn away a chance to learn from other successful experiences.