The Electoral Process and Political Dynamics
The Electoral Process
Article 41 of the constitution of 1917 and subsequent amendments regulate electoral politics in Mexico. Suffrage is universal for all citizens eighteen or older, and voting is compulsory, although this provision is rarely enforced. The Mexican constitution enshrines the principle of direct election by popular vote of the president and most other elected officials. Executive officeholders may not be reelected, and legislators may not serve consecutive terms. Ordinary elections are held every six years for president and members of the Senate, and every three years for deputies. Since 1986 midterm elections have renewed one-half of the Senate, in addition to the entire Chamber of Deputies. Gubernatorial elections are evenly distributed throughout a sexenio
, so that ordinarily no more than six governorships are contested in any given year.
Although holding multicandidate elections in which the electorate makes the final choice is one of the basic principles of the Mexican Revolution, the electoral process in Mexico has historically fallen short of this liberal ideal. During the sixty-year period of single-party hegemony that followed the consolidation of the revolutionary regime, regular elections became an important symbol of stability and of the regime's self-ascribed democratic character. Beyond fulfilling an ambiguous plebiscitary function, however, elections were not intended as a means of selecting new leaders, nor were they usually relevant to the public policy process. Instead, leadership turnover was centrally controlled by the president, while most significant interaction between public officials and the citizenry took place within the context of day-to-day corporatist bargaining and informal clientelist relationships.
As the beneficiary of a noncompetitive electoral process, the official party has historically enjoyed a near monopoly of all levels of public office. For almost six decades, the principal political battles in Mexico were fought among elite factions and interest groups within the PRI party structure, with little or no meaningful participation by independent organizations or opposition parties. During this prolonged period of one-party hegemony, several modest electoral reforms were implemented by the government in order to maintain the appearance of electoral democracy and undercut the appeal of latent opposition movements. Electoral reforms enacted during the 1970s included the allotment of a minimum number of congressional seats to both legitimate and "satellite" opposition parties. Additional steps toward greater political pluralism were taken during the early 1980s, when President de la Madrid embarked on a campaign to make local-level politics more competitive.
By the mid-1980s, the electoral arena had been liberalized and the political space for opposition had expanded to such an extent that the PRI found itself increasingly challenged at the ballot box. In 1985 the landslide victories of PRI candidates in gubernatorial and municipal elections in the northern state of Chihuahua led to widespread allegations of electoral fraud by the opposition PAN, which had expected major wins in one of its traditional strongholds. In an unprecedented series of public protests, a variety of civic groups, with support from the Roman Catholic Church, staged massive demonstrations denouncing the official tallies.
Responding to increasing popular pressure for democratization, the de la Madrid administration in 1986 introduced an electoral reform package that expanded opportunities for an opposition presence in the congress. The 1986 Electoral Reform Law enlarged the Chamber of Deputies from 400 to 500 seats and doubled the number of congressional seats filled by proportional representation to 200. Of the 500 deputyships, one each is allocated to 300 electoral districts, elected by simple plurality in single-member districts comparable to those in the United States. The remaining 200 seats are assigned by proportional representation based on a party's share of the national vote tally. The proportional seats give opposition parties an opportunity to be represented in the congress even if they lose all of the district races. The PRI assured, however, that the distribution of proportional seats would not become a means for a coalition of parties without a plurality of the overall vote to take control of the lower house. A clause in the electoral law provides that enough proportional seats in the Chamber of Deputies be assigned to the party winning an overall plurality in the election to give that party a majority in the Chamber of Deputies.
Theoretically, no party is barred from holding a single-member district seat, although in practice an overwhelming number of such seats have been held by the PRI. The increase in the number of proportional seats was a concession to the opposition, which relies heavily on proportional seating for its representation in the congress. The 1986 reform also introduced proportional representation in state legislatures as well as government funding for all registered political parties.
Data as of June 1996