OPEN TO CHANGE

Mexico 2014 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW: DIPLOMACY

Mexico's PRI government is revolutionizing both society and economy, bringing together disparate opinions to work toward a common goal.

The United Mexican States, or Mexico in its short form, is a federal republic which emerged out of the collapse of the Vice-royalty of New Spain, the name given to Spain's colonial territories in North America and the Philippines at the height of its imperial ascendancy. By the early 19th century, Spain's overseas power had been steadily eroded, and the gradual ceding of territory to Napoleon's France and the newly independent US prefigured the Mexican and Central American declaration of independence in 1821. A secular, federal constitution was promulgated in 1857, but this led to a civil war when conservatives refused to accept the document's challenges to the authority of the military and the church. There followed decades of rule under President Porfirio Díaz, but the same conflict between liberals and conservatives resurfaced to spark the Mexican Civil War (1910-1920), a period which would go on to define the politics of 20th century Mexico, and give the state its existing constitution.

DIVIDED UNITY

The country is subdivided into 32 federal entities, including the Distrito Federal of Mexico City, seat of government, and financial, cultural, and historical center of the nation. Each state is internally governed by its own congress and local constitution, and is largely autonomous and free. The 1917 constitution sets out the structure of the federal system and divides the government into legislative, judicial, and executive branches.

Legislative power is entrusted to the bicameral Congress of the Union, which is divided into a Chamber of Deputies and a Senate. The latter chamber comprises 128 seats, 96 of which are selected by popular vote, while the various political parties choose the remainder for six-year periods. The most recent elections were held in mid-2012, and will be next held in 2018. Of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, 300 are allocated through public elections, with the other 200 decided by the breakdown of each party's share of the popular vote. In the 2012 elections, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), won 52 senate seats and 201 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, the Partido Acción Nacional, National Action Party (PAN), won 38 and 114 respectively, the Partido Revolucionario Democrático, Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), 22 and 100, with the Partido Verde Ecologista de Mexico (PVEM) and the Partido del Trabajo (PT) holding the rest of the seats along with smaller parties.

The Supreme Court of Justice represents the highest level of the judicial branch of the government. With its base in Mexico City, this court is subdivided into civil, labor, administrative, and criminal authorities, and has a total of 11 justices and one chief justice. These individuals are recommended by the president and endorsed by a majority in the Senate. In addition, the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary oversees electoral processes, a task which was previously the domain of the lower house of the legislature. Subordinate courts at a state and district level deal with matters of regional importance or issues within said jurisdictions.

EXECUTIVE DECISIONS

The roles of head of state and head of government are held simultaneously by the victorious candidate in the presidential elections, who also serves as head of his or her own party. The president selects advisors and ministers for their own cabinet, though certain positions must be approved by the upper house of the legislature first. In December 2012, President Peña Nieto was elected for the six-year sexenio term, ushering in the PRI to government again, after a hiatus of 12 years. During this period, the PAN held on to power for the first time under Vicente Fox and then Felipe Calderón. The previous 71 years of government in Mexico had been presided over by the PRI.

Prior to Peña Nieto's successful bid, the PRI also won majorities in both houses of the legislative branch in the mid-2012 elections, as it had done in the 2009 poll. This predominance has allowed the present administration to push through a series of historic reforms to key areas of the economy. Crucially, reform of the energy industry and the opening of the sector to private investment, including for shale and deepwater reserves, is expected to allow for a more efficient production matrix. This will benefit industry, which currently pays a high price for electricity, and should generate higher tax revenue from investors. Beyond energy, financial reform is expected to increase competition among banks and encourage those segments of the population that are unbanked and employed informally to consider engaging with the formal economy. Again, this will yield new tax income and promote better practice in the sector. Other areas under transformation include telecommunications and media, which will affect Carlos Slim's América Móvil, and education, which will disempower the Mexican Educational Workers Union (SNTE) and render the training and selection of teachers the task of government authorities rather than that of the unions. These new bills have passed through the legislative process, but their true test will come in the implementation phase, which President Peña Nieto aims to complete by term-end in 2018.

WORKING AS ONE

Congressional control by the PRI is not, however, the sole reason for the accelerated acceptance of these changes. A broader, consensus-driven impetus in Mexican politics has emerged over the past 15 years, with the PRI's time in opposition inspiring a more conciliatory dialectic among parties, and Calderón's PAN administration proffering political reforms to congress. Some of these passed before the change in government in 2012, and now independent candidates who are unaffiliated with major parties can run for election for the first time in the country's history. These advances represent the culmination of years of evolution of Mexican politics, which have led to more open and transparent democratic institutions operating in the state.

The clearest illustration of this new cooperative force is the Pact for Mexico, a document that outlines the necessary improvements for Mexican society, and which was signed by the country's four main political parties in December 2013. The Pact is based on three primary pillars: the strengthening of the state, improving democracy and the economy, and increasing the participation of citizens in the nation. More effective protections for the human rights of Mexicans and immigrants from other countries are to be created, and a focused effort to better political and public accountability are key elements of the agreement. In addition, punishments for exceeding campaign fundraising limits and the continuation of the ban on re-election will remain central talking points as reform discussions continue.

BEYOND BORDERS

The incumbent administration is also embracing a cooperative strategy in its diplomatic and international trade affairs. Through two decades of increased economic activity with the US and Canada under the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA), Mexico has deepened relations with its neighbors. Besides commercial ties, it works in concert with the US on transnational issues such as narcotics trafficking and crime, as well as border security and migration issues. At the same time, the country is also extending its influence to the south and across the Pacific. The Pacific Alliance has allowed member states of Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico to advance trade, but also to develop other forms of integration, such as the sharing of embassies abroad and the easing of visa restrictions for citizens. Mexico has FTA agreements with tens of countries, and has been engaged in a process of active diplomacy since the tenure of Vicente Fox and the adoption of the Castañeda Doctrine, which called for more open and involved foreign relations. Mexico is an active member of the Uniting for Consensus movement, which calls for a higher number of non-permanent UN Security Council members rather than an expansion of the number of permanent members.

With a more representative political structure than ever in its past, and the current administration's crusade to improve its output of key sectors by furthering the liberalized trade model, Mexico's internal relations are in an historic phase. The success of Peña Nieto's policies will depend on maintaining political support from other parties, particularly following congressional elections in 2015. However, his astute moves to placate opposing views by nurturing a more complete and balanced engagement with society has been paying dividends, and should continue to do so as long as the promised effects of reforms come to pass.