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Mexican law review

versión On-line ISSN 2448-5306versión impresa ISSN 1870-0578

Mex. law rev vol.5 no.1 Ciudad de México jul./dic. 2012



2. Collaboration with the Neighbor (Still Transit) Country

The Obama Administration kept using the "transit country" articulation to name Mexico as the foreign "other." Nevertheless, its identity construction of the United States quoting words previously used to construct the "transit country" is noteworthy.

Recalling the War on Drugs discourse presenting the U.S. identity as a virtuous, sufficient, certain and helpful nation-state, the next declaration by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is problematic: "Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade [...] Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians."100

This affirmation denaturalizes what seemed to have been exogenously given, quoting the prior administration: "this lawlessness is fueled by Mexico's position as the primary transit corridor."101 What seemed to be an exclusive consequence of Mexico's official corruption and weakness in the use of legitimate force is now sponsored by U.S. incapability to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and prevent weapon-smuggling across its borders. In this sense, the War on Drugs depicted the "self" as positively sovereign and virtuous vis-á-vis the deficient and negatively sovereign foreign "other," rewriting its meaning in order to legitimate State action and reproduce this hierarchy of identities.102 Thus, the United States attempted to obscure that which is inherent to any State: that it is a fallible and contingent entity. If the State were perfect and could achieve complete security for its population, then its rationale would be accomplished and it would cease to exist.103 Now that the United States itself is recognized through the "fallible entity" signifier, the Obama administration denaturalizes the "help" signifier: "[T]his strategy provides a plan to support the dedicated efforts of the Mexican Government in its fight against the cartels by addressing the role that the United States plays as a supplier of illegal cash and weapons to the cartels."104

Before, the United States helped through certification and military cooperation. Now, the role of the United States is that of "the supplier of illegal cash and weapons to the cartels." This U.S. supply has a material explanation according to the 2010 National Drug Threat Assessment by the Department of Justice, which asserts that the arms are acquired in Arizona, California and Texas from "Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers."105 Furthermore, this supply has a regulatory explanation lodged in the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."106 Hence, the "help/harm" binary to describe U.S.-Mexico flows is denaturalized. The United States not only provides help, but also exports harm, and its incapability to curb the flow of weapons to Mexico is understood in terms of a self-restriction imposed by its own Constitution. Thus, the signifier "self-constraint" is established.

The first part of Hillary Clinton's declaration is expanded in the 2010 NDCS: "However, it is not just the demand for drugs that occurs in America; the production of drugs is also increasingly becoming a domestic problem. The five most common substances with which American youth initiate use are largely produced in the United States: alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription drugs, and inhalants."107

When the United States recognizes itself as the producer of illegal drugs, such as marijuana, the affirmations made in 1971 and 1989 by Nixon and H.W. Bush regarding the foreign nature of the poison are denaturalized. Simply put, the laws of supply and demand would look for cost-effective solutions within the United States, and a cost-effective mechanism was to domestically produce supply for the insatiable demand.108 Now, not only does the United States export "harm" by supplying the cartels with arms and money, but it also produces its own "harm." As the United States has become a "source" country, it could possibly be a "transit" country susceptible towards drug cartels "largely based in Colombia and Mexico."109 Moreover, the 2009 NSBCE suggests a new identity for those organizations:

Intelligence derived from criminal investigations clearly indicates that U.S.-based street gangs are involved in both the receipt of narcotics from drug trafficking organizations and the smuggling/trafficking of weapons to them. The increase in gang involvement in illicit trafficking has the potential to increase Southwest border violence exponentially, while contributing to the profitability and growth of international gangs such as MS-13, Latin Kings, and Mexican Mafia.110

U.S.-based street gangs, international gangs, MS-13 and Latin Kings. These concepts also denaturalize constructions of cartels as being mostly "Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations"111 of the War on Drugs. MS-13 and Latin Kings are indeed U.S.-based gangs conformed of 10,000 to 25,000 members each just within the United States, and many of their members are U.S. citizens.112 These street gangs coordinate criminal webs in partnership with other organizations that form transnational drug networks able to "gather and analyze intelligence about government enforcement activities."113 The construction of the Mexican cartel yields the way to the transnational drug network capable of acknowledging and challenging U.S. drug control policy. In the previous "transit country" identity, cartels challenged Colombia and Mexico as both States were deficient in their use of legitimate force, but also because their flaws were manifested by official corruption. The construction of U.S.-based gangs implicated with transnational criminal networks gathering intelligence to counter U.S. policies opens the gate to the corruption of U.S. officials. As a result, the 2009 NSBCS also enshrines measures to cope with corruption:

Attack corruption involving domestic public officials along the Southwest border [...] Public corruption undermines faith and confidence in government, eroding trust in institutions upon which the Nation's democratic system is based [...] Investigating, prosecuting, and deterring corruption on all levels along the US borders is vital to combating transnational organized crime and protecting national security.114

Corruption has ceased to be exclusive of the foreign "other" as it now affects the United States itself.115 Nonetheless, U.S. corruption is a marginal and treatable pathology. It is marginal because it appears "along the US borders;" and is treatable because the United States has set a multi-agency response with "FBI-led Border Corruption Task Forces" to cure this pathology not only along the U.S.-Mexico border, but also inside the United States.116 Unlike the War on Drugs in which official corruption evidenced the "transit" country's flaws and deficiencies, U.S. official corruption cannot represent the same thing since the United States can deal with it.

In the War on Drugs, the words that built the identity of negatively sovereign States like "production," "transit," "criminal organizations" and "corruption" implied an articulation of flaw, deficiency, uncertainty and harm. When those same words are used to articulate the U.S. identity in the Obama Administration, a fallible entity facing self-constraint and dealing with marginal and treatable pathologies is constructed. This is a discursive change that takes into account the fact that the U.S. identity in the War on Drugs referred to a utopian version of virtue, sufficiency, certainty and help. Thus, this article suggests that in the Obama Administration, the U.S. identity constructs itself not only in relation to domestic and foreign "others," but also in a complex differentiation process from the previous U.S. identity.117 The ideal vision of the United States as model of the aforementioned qualities pervading the War on Drugs died in its failure to defeat "public enemy number one." A new U.S. identity as a fallible State facing self-constraint to deal with marginal and treatable pathologies has emerged. Therefore the U.S. identity is an unclosed and dynamic construction necessarily prone to change.118

In the New Strategy, Mexico is constructed in the same fashion as the United States in the 2009 NSBCS, and on the whole, in the same fashion as in the War on Drugs. "Mexico remains a major transhipment location [...] Mexico is also a major foreign source of marijuana and methamphetamine."119 Whereas transnational criminal rings find their U.S.-based branches in street gangs, their Mexican counterparts are constructed as "major organizations" operating over vast amounts of Mexican territory like "the West Coast, the Gulf Coast and the Central Region."120 Moreover, the 2009 NSBCS also talks about the need to "[a]ttack foreign official corruption that supports drug trafficking and related crimes."121

In the New Strategy, both the United States and Mexico are constructed by using "criminal organizations," "official corruption" and "production and transit of drugs." Nevertheless, the logic of difference now overcomes a difference based on difference signifiers, i.e. the "flaw/virtue" pair, towards a logic of difference understood as "an irreducible difference in opposition to a dialectical opposition, a difference "more profound" than a contradiction."122 Hence, the difference will be lodged in the degrees and intensity of limited power between both neighbors.123 Because the New Strategy puts both States under conditions of the same nature, the United States is understood as a fallible State with self-constraint dealing with marginal and treatable pathologies on one hand. On the other, Mexico is rather a more fallible State with more self-constraint dealing with less marginal and less treatable pathologies. This is also a rather complex differentiation process than depicting Mexico inherently as "transit" country, flawed and deficient. The United States presents itself again as the nodal point and at the top of the hierarchy of identities, thereby establishing policy patterns:

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has embarked on a courageous campaign to break the power of the drug cartels operating in his country. Through the Merida Initiative, the United States is supporting Mexico's efforts and helping to strengthen law enforcements and judicial capacities in the region[...] There has also been a significant increase in violence within Mexico, making the need for a revised National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy all the more important as part of a comprehensive national response.124

Nevertheless, this policy comes from a fallible State, the United States, towards an even more fallible State, Mexico, which is at best casted as courageous. In this light, the transition of the drug-inspired violence from Cali to Ciudad Juárez, on the US southern border; can be basically understood from the stubbornness to apply policies based on Manichean identities of a virtuous, sufficient and helpful nation-state vis-á-vis the flawed, deficient and harmful transit countries.125 As seen in the last section, U.S. and Mexican Governments agreed to comply with their respective War on Drugs roles. The United States could blame the "transit" country for exporting deadly poison and Mexico could wait for help from its virtuous neighbor to get rid of criminal gangs and official corruption. Now, both fallible States have different agencies based on their respective degrees of limited power to truly collaborate on the basis of their domestic duties.126 In U.S.-Mexico relations, no magical and quick solution will be offered as noted by Lorenzo Meyer:

Today, some U.S. political circles are acquainted with the fact that their southern neighbor is facing serious troubles. Because, albeit it is not yet a failed State, its economy, security, polity and educative systems are badly failing [...] If, notwithstanding and in function of the security of its great southern frontier, Washington were to propose helping Mexico to alleviate its situation, it is simply quite little what the United States could do for its poor neighbor.127

It is a common assumption to say that the War on Drugs was doomed to failure because no matter how many "transit countries" the United States could help militarily, another drug supply would emerge to meet U.S. demand.128 However, for Mexico, if the U.S. demand/supply of illegal drugs/ weapons were to finally cease to exist, is that going to make Mexico a safer country for its population? Could not the criminal gangs import their weapons from another place and switch to other activities like people smuggling to reach other international markets?129 Whereas only the United States, Germany and Japan had more billionaires on the Forbes lists than Mexico by 1994; 65 percent of the Mexican population is plunged into extreme poverty.130 This excluded percentage of the population may immigrate illegally to the United States, enter the informal sector, join criminal gangs or simply starve.131 In this light, former President Zedillo's declarations about Mexico as a victim and transit zone of drug-trafficking enabled Mexico to wait for help from the north of the Rio Grande. In the War on Drugs, Mexican administrations could evade responsibility by using its role as a "transit" country while U.S. administrations could blame the flawed, deficient and uncertain Mexico for exporting deadly poison.132 This may have allowed the administrations of both countries to avoid far-reaching measures in drug control policy and general governance.

The victimization of the "transit" country and the enactment of the United States as superior were founded on a difference logic based on pairs of contradictory differences like flaw/virtue, deficiency/sufficiency, uncertainty/certainty and harm/help. When the New Strategy constructs Mexico and the United States using the same concepts of "criminal gangs," "official corruption" and "transit and production of drugs," the logic of difference is based on degrees of limited power. Therefore, the United States and Mexico basically differ over their grades of fallibility, self-constraint and on the marginality and treatability of their pathologies. A limited U.S. aims at decreasing its domestic demand/supply of illegal drugs/weapons, thus rendering Mexico accountable for the causes and effects of drug-trafficking on its own territory. In this sense, although the New Strategy is less heroic and dramatic than the War on Drugs, it represents honest policy-making from one neighbor to the other.133


3. Reconstruction

The New Strategy highlights features of U.S. drug control policy that were obscured in the War on Drugs. As the New Strategy did not emerge independently from its predecessor, its constructions are stabilized and constrained by the War on Drugs discourse.134 Insofar as the New Strategy is understood as a reconstruction of the War on Drugs, the following quotes by previous U.S. administrations make it possible to trace the discursive roots of the former in the whispers of the latter:135

So we must also act to destroy the market for drugs, and this means the prevention of new addicts, and the rehabilitation of those who are addicted (Nixon administration).136
These polydrug organizations dealing in cocaine, Mexican heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine, attempt to corrupt law enforcement officials on both sides of the border to facilitate their smuggling operations (Clinton Administration).137
The United States Government recognizes the role that weapons purchased in the United States often play in the narcoviolence that has been plaguing Mexico (G.W Bush Administration).138

Prevention and treatment were topics first suggested by Richard Nixon, while the Clinton and W. Bush administrations invoked U.S. corruption and weapons supply.

Perhaps the most surprising speech comes from H.W. Bush in 1989:

But let's face it; Americans cannot blame the Andean nations for our voracious appetite for drugs. Ultimately, the solution to the United States drug problem lies within our own borders —stepped-up enforcement, but education and treatment as well. And our Latin American cousins cannot blame the United States for the voracious greed of the drug traffickers who control small empires at home. Ultimately, the solution to that problem lies within your borders. And yet good neighbors must stand together. A world war must be met in kind [...] Allies in any war must consult as partners.139

By 1989, George H.W. Bush had already concluded that the United States and Latin American countries should work first in their homelands instead of blaming the foreign "other" for drug-trafficking. Why were domestic and feasible measures to reduce drugs demand and save many Latin American and U.S. lives obscured in drug policy?

H.W. Bush answers this question in his own speech: by stepping up law enforcement at home and by confronting a "World War" abroad. Wars are particular social constructions when understood as periods of crisis enabling the hegemonic production and reproduction of the "self/other" identities.140 They are special because "warfare is simultaneously accepted and constrained."141 Warfare is accepted for the nation-state because it has the legitimate use of force to pursue its interest which theoretically is in the interest of its population, and it is constrained because there should be the construction of identities to inscribe meaning to the acting characters.142 A "War" discourse ponders belligerent and law enforcement identities over healthcare and education identities.143 In this sense, the War on Drugs attached the meanings of "enemy invaders" and "deadly poison" to narcotics. These "enemy invaders" use flawed and deficient countries as a transit zone to reach the United States harnessing Mexican and Colombian cartels. Once in the United States, the "enemy invaders" reach individuals to turn them into irrational, unfaithful and aggressive criminals threatening U.S. rationality, life and faithfulness.

In this kind of warfare, the United States must defend its rational and healthy population by jailing criminals at home, and helping deficient "transit" countries by giving them military cooperation abroad. In the War on Drugs, the United States cannot jail U.S. youth for smoking cannabis sativa, but it can jail irrational criminals for breaking the law by smoking deadly poison. A fallible State cannot certify and help another more fallible State, but the positively sovereign United States, virtuous, sufficient and certain can certify and help corrupt "transit" and "source" Latin American countries. In the War on Drugs, the U.S. identity as a positively sovereign and as a moral defender of American values acted as a big nodal point giving unity to a series of heterogeneous elements such as treatment and education.144

This phrase encapsulates the drug policy reconstruction in the Obama Administration: "The importance of domestic law enforcement, border control, and international cooperation against drug production and trafficking cannot be overstated. These traditional approaches to the drug problem remain essential, but they cannot by themselves fully address a challenge that is inherently tied to the public health of the American people."145

When the Obama administration uses a previous discourse to reconstruct new identities, one criticism is whether there is a repetition of previous ones.146 However, the New Strategy traced the War on Drugs genealogy to rescue those heterogeneous features that were shadowed by the past U.S. identity.147 By reconstructing the U.S. identity by means of support, orientation and surveillance on the basis of reciprocity towards U.S. citizens, healthcare and education measures are balanced with the dominant punitive discourse.148 Equally, the reconstruction of the U.S. identity as a fallible State_vis-a-vis the more fallible "other," prompts the United States and Mexico to see, in H.W Bush's words, that the solution "lies within their own borders."


IV. Conclusion: Once the War is Over

It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly [...] But when war becomes literally continuous, it also ceases to be dangerous [...] War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair [...] The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects [...].149

This quote offers one interpretation of the War on Drugs: when a war has protracted for nearly 40 years without entirely defeating the enemy, danger becomes naturalized, and the war focuses on the population. The warfare construction first implied attaching meaning to discursive subjects and then enabled procedures to deal with those subjects. A host of natural and chemical substances with hallucinogenic, depressive, disinhibiting or addictive effects on the human body were depicted as "deadly poison" when referred to as inside the United States, and as "enemy invaders" when outside. The War on Drugs articulated two discourses with a common characteristic: the United States is the top actor in the hierarchy of identities and is the policy-making actor on U.S. soil and in the international arena.150

Unlike previous U.S. discourses in which material objects like missiles were deemed threatening when linked to rivals like the Soviet Union,151 the War on Drugs constructs narcotics as a threat by granting them metaphysical powers. The "deadly poison" prowls around U.S. streets turning people into criminals who commit robbery and shoplift. But crime is just one side of a bigger threat menacing U.S. life, rationality and faithfulness. The United States responds to this by incarcerating these criminals through law enforcement. When the deadly poison is outside the United States, it becomes "enemy invaders" trying to encroach upon the U.S. homeland. Here, narcotics wield their metaphysical powers to use Latin American countries surrounding the United States as transit and source zones. These countries are flawed, deficient, and uncertain; their legitimate use of force is weak, official corruption is endemic, and they cannot assess their situation. They just export harm. The United States, on the other side of the border, is a positively sovereign country supported by generosity and concern to certify and help proscribed nations.

This war has lasted long enough and its discourse has triumphed over attempts to decriminalize the domestic "other" from the Nixon era to the W. Bush days. As with any other discourse, in order to be meaningful, the War on Drugs found acceptance in "transit countries." Mexican President Felipe Calderón provides an example:

I'd like to point out that this isn't a "war on drugs" in the Nixon sense, but this is against criminal organizations that seek —through violence and threats— to collect rents on legal and illicit businesses in a community. Drug trafficking is a part of that. But this battle goes beyond it. To return authority to government and the citizens that elected it in each community in Mexico and take it away from the criminals.152

Although Calderón is declaring that his is not a Nixon-fashion "War on Drugs," he is actually speaking the War on Drugs discourse. Drugs threaten U.S. rationality, life and faithfulness. But they threaten Mexico in terms of its legitimate use of force and its corrupt structure since criminal organizations take advantage of Mexico's flaws and deficiencies as a transit country. Mexican governments speak the War on Drugs discourse insofar as they struggle to "return [challenged] authority to government" using militarized force to counter cartels. When President Zedillo endorsed the transit country role, he made the War on Drugs discourse meaningful by embracing the United States as the virtuous, sufficient, and certain State that would help Mexico get rid of its drug-related shortcomings. As a transit country, Mexico is fully entitled to ask for U.S. utopian help in order to reach a decisive victory in the War on Drugs.

After 38 years of a continuous War on Drugs, both neighbors started to fight against their own populations. In the United States, the number of people jailed for drug-related crimes has increased 12 times since 1980.153 While in Mexico, approximately 50,000 Mexicans have died in its drug war since 2006. Furthermore, a policy that should have been devised to cope with the real jeopardizing effects of drug use like addiction and overdose death was devised to criminalize possession and trade.

For this reason, when Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske claimed to end the War on Drugs, he added: "Regardless of how you try to explain to people it's a war on drugs, or a war on a product, people see a war as a war on them, a war on individuals and we're not at war with people in this country so I think we need to be more comprehensive."154

As a result of the end of war, the 2010 NDCS divested drugs from their metaphysical powers. The United States deals with potential drug users, drug users and minor offenders by providing them with healthcare, education and community surveillance. Since the United States portrays itself on the basis of reciprocity, the nation-state will help as long as there is a response from the citizen. Although this U.S. identity implies mechanisms of power, it offers alternatives for dealing with drug use other than mere incarceration, a high expression of coercion.155

Will the New Strategy be upheld? New information confirms it will. The 2011 NDCS regards its predecessor in these terms: "[i]n its inaugural Strategy published last year, this Administration embarked upon a new approach to the problem of drug use in the United States."156 The document also speaks about the Fair Sentencing Act, newly approved legislation that eliminates penalty discrimination between crack cocaine and powder cocaine which used to fall under a form of racial profiling.

Moreover, the Merida Initiative, which provides Mexico with military equipment and training from U.S. agencies, has had fewer funds from Fiscal Year 2010 to 2012. The money disbursed from the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement Programs (INCLE) and Foreign Military Financing (FMF) went from $549.25 million in 2010 to $256.5 million in 2012 according to the State Department.157 At least in the short and medium run, the military option in Mexico will not be much supported with U.S. public resources.

The United States has also changed in relation to Mexico. When the 2010 NDCS and the 2009 NSBCS describe the United States as consumer and supplier of drugs and weapons, it also constructs itself with the words attached to transit countries: criminal organizations, corruption, and transit and production of narcotics. The identity of the positively sovereign country gives way to a U.S. identity prone to having limitations and constraints imposed by its own Constitution and the inherent boundaries characteristic to the nation-state. Therefore, the difference with Mexico lodges in degrees of limited power and not in quality.

Once the war is over and the United States emerges as a fallible State, the landscape will also change for Mexico. For a country whose official name is United Mexican States, having had governments that thought that by only tying Mexico's economy to that of its northern neighbor in the NAFTA would fix its economy, this is not a minor issue.158 The negative effects of drug consumption in the United States on Mexico may disappear, but without far-reaching solutions the millions of marginalized Mexicans will continue to be lured by immigration, the informal sector and crime.159 Mexico should stop fearing the social environment in order to become more concerned about the consequences of its own free choices.160 The Mexican people should ask their State why a country capable of producing the wealthiest man on earth has to face narco-bloodshed on its own territory. The Obama administration endeavors pragmatic and honest measures by curbing the demand for drugs and the supply of weapons; nonetheless the New Strategy only offers domestic and limited policies to Mexico, not utopian help.

As Jimmy Carter once said: "This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning."161 This warning must be posed to both the United States and Mexico in order to bury epic discourses in which the Rio Grande became the natural border between virtue and flaw. The New Strategy represents one scenario in which both neighbors have serious concerns: a massive problem of public health in the U.S. case, and a massive problem of social exclusion in the Mexican case. Starting from this point both the United States and Mexico can stop "cooperating" and start to collaborate as fallible States that represent the interests of their populations and not fight them.



* Master of Science degree in International Relations, University of Bristol; Bachelor's degree in Journalism, Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education. Researcher on North-South relations, Latin-American studies and public policies. In Memoriam Sofía Valenzuela Valadez.

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3 Adam Isacson, The U.S. Military in the War on Drugs, in Drugs and Democracy in Latin America: The Impact of U.S. Policy 15-60 (Coletta Youngers & Eileen Rosin eds., Lynne Rienner, 2005).         [ Links ]

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9 Id.

10 ONDCP, 2009 Nsbcs 5 (2009).

11 Id. at 1.

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33 Pablo Vila, Border Identifications: Narratives of Religion, Gender and Class on the US-Mexico Border 272 (University of Texas Press, 2005).         [ Links ]

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35 Nixon, supra note 32.

36 Id.

37 Doty, supra note 21, at 130.

38 Nixon, supra note 32.

39 Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason 88 (Richard Howard trans., Tavistock, 1965).         [ Links ]

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42 Doty, supra note 21, at 42.

43 Kuzmarov, supra note 27.

44 James Carter, Drug Abuse Message to the Congress (1977), (last visited February 19, 2012).         [ Links ]

45 Shane Blackman, Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy 185 (Open University Press, 2008).         [ Links ]

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48 Ronald Reagan, Address before a Joint Session of the Congress on the State of the Union (1983), (last visited February 19, 2012).         [ Links ]

49 Campbell, supra note 18, at 136.

50 Jacques Derridá, Writing and Difference 121 (Routledge, 2001).         [ Links ]

51 Campbell, supra note 18, at 137.

52 Ronald Reagan, Address to the Nation on the Campaign against Drug Abuse (1986), (last visited February 19, 2012).         [ Links ]

53 Elwood, supra note 28.

54 Doty, supra note 21, at 87.

55 Whitford & Yates, supra note 2, at 63.

56 ONDCP, 1989 NDCS 61 (1989)

57 ONDCP, supra 56, at 2.

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60 Id. at 29.

61 George Bush, Address to the nation on the National Drug Control Strategy, George Bush, Address to the Nation on the National Drug Control Strategy (1989), (last visited February 19, 2012).         [ Links ]

62 Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization 141 (Free Press, 1947).         [ Links ]

63ONDCP, supra note 56, at 62.

64 Gil Friedman & Harvey Starr, Agency, Structure and International Politics 6 (1997).         [ Links ]

65 George Bush, supra note 61.

66 Doty, supra note 21, at 44.

67 Campbell, supra note 18, at 65.

68 ONDCP, 1996 NDCS 31 (1996),

69 Id. at 18.

70 Russell Crandall, Driven by Drugs: US Policy Toward Colombia 43 (Lynne Rienner, 2002).         [ Links ]

71 Julie Ayling, Conscription in the War on Drugs: Recent Reforms to the US Certification Process, 16 International Journal of Drug Policy, 376, 377 (2005).         [ Links ]

72 David Campbell, The Biopolitics of Security: Oil, Empire and the Sports Utility Vehicle, 57 American Quarterly 943, 948 (2005).         [ Links ]

73 Doty, supra note 21, at 92.

74 Riordan Roett, El proceso de certificación y la relación México-EU, Este País (April, 1997), at 73, (last visited Februrary 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

75 Thomas Constantine, Interviews on Frontline Show Murder, Money & Mexico (1997), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

76 Bill Spencer, Drug Certification, 6 Foreign Policy in Focus 1 (1998), available at (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

77 William Clinton, Statement on House of Representatives action on narcotics certification for Mexico (1997), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

78 Samuel Barkin, Realist Constructivism: Rethinking International Relations Theory 27 (2010).         [ Links ]

79 Interview with Ernesto Zedillo President of Mexico on NBC Show Nightly News in New York City, NY (1998), (last visited February 20, 2012).

80 ONDCP, 2007 NDCS 33 (2007),

81 William Walker III, International Collaboration in Historical Perspective, in Drug Policy in The Americas 265, 273 (Peter H. Smith ed., Westview 1992).         [ Links ]

82 Peter Andreas, Border Games: Policing the US-Mexico Divide 68 (Cornell University Press, 2009).         [ Links ]

83 Nora Hamilton, Mexico in Politics of Latin America: The Power Game 285, 332 (Harry Vanden & Gary Prevost eds., Oxford University Press, 3rd ed., 2009).         [ Links ]

84 Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte 84 (Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1960).         [ Links ]

85 ONDCP, 2010 NDCS, v (2010),

86 Barack Obama, Presidential Proclamation: National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month (2009), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

87 Judith Lorber & Lisa Moore, Gender and the Social Construction of Illness 7 (Altamira, 2002).         [ Links ]

88 Lene Hansen, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War 39 (Routledge, 2006).         [ Links ]

89 ONDCP, supra note 85, at 8.

90 Robert Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy 172 (Princeton University Press, 1992).         [ Links ]

91 ONDCP, supra note 85, at 8.

92 George Bush, Remarks at an Antidrug Rally in Billings, Montana (1990), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

93 Jean Elshtain, Women and War 62 (University of Chicago Press, 1995).         [ Links ]

94 ONDCP, supra note 85, at 9.

95 Elizabeth Dauphinee, Emmanuel Levinas, in Critical Theorists and International Relations 238 (Jenny Edkins & Nick Vaughan-Williams eds., Routledge, 2009).         [ Links ]

96 ONDCP, supra note 85, at 9.

97 Petrus Spierenburg, Punishment, Power and History: Foucault and Elias, 28 Social Science History 607, 617 (2004).         [ Links ]

98 Supra at 626.

99 Thomas Papadimos & Stuart Murray, Foucault's 'Fearless Speech' and the Transformation and Mentoring of Medical Students, 3 Philosophy, Ethics and Humanities in Medicine 2 (2010).         [ Links ]

100, Clinton says US feeds Mexico Drug Trade by Mark Landler (2009), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

101 ONDCP, supra note 80, at 33.

102 Campbell, supra note 18, at 11.

103 Id. at 12.

104 ONDCP, supra note 10, at 3.

105 Department of Justice, National Drug Threat Assessment 16 (2010),        [ Links ]

106 Nara, Constitution of the United States: Bill of Rights.        [ Links ]

107 ONDCP, 2010 NDCS 8 (2010).

108 Smith, supra note 25, at 1.

109 ONDCP, supra note 107, at 63.

110 ONDCP, 2009 NSBCS 29 (2009).

111 ONDCP, 2007 NDCS 35 (2007).

112 Karen Kinnear, Gangs: A Reference Handbook 189-195 (ABC-Clio, 2009).         [ Links ]

113 Michael Kenney, Drug Traffickers, Terrorist Networks and Ill-Fated Government Strategies, in New Threats and New Actors in International Security 69, 78 (Elke Krahmann ed., Palgrave, 2005).         [ Links ]

114 ONDCP, supra note 110, at 23.

115 Robert Leiken, Controlling the Global Corruption Epidemic, 105 Foreign Policy 55, 67 (1996).         [ Links ]

116 FBI, Combating Border Corruption: Locally and Nationally (2010), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

117 Hansen, supra note 88, at 39.

118 Yannis Stavrakakis, Lacan and the Political 80 (Routledge, 1999).         [ Links ]

119 ONDCP, supra note 110, at 17.

120 Id. at 21.

121 Id. at 24.

122 Jacques Derridá quoted in Branka Arsic', Active Habits and Passive Events or Bartleby in Between Deleuze And Derridá 144 (Paul Patton & John Protevi eds., Continuum, 2003).         [ Links ]

123 William Desmond, Art, Origins, Otherness: Between Philosophy and Art 144 (State University of New York Press, 2003).         [ Links ]

124 ONDCP, supra note 110, at 4.

125 Luiza Bialasiewicz et al., Performing Security: The Imaginative Geographies of Current US Strategy, 26 Political Geography 405, 419 (2007).         [ Links ]

126 Emanuel Adler, Communitarian International Relations: The Epistemic Foundations of International Relations 198 (Routledge, 2005).         [ Links ]

127 Lorenzo Meyer, Seen from Washington (2009), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

128 Fisher, supra note 22, at 2.

129 Phil Williams & Dimitri Vlassis, Combating Transnational Crime: Concepts, Activities and Responses 57 (Routledge, 2001).         [ Links ]

130 Hamilton, supra note 83, at 326.

131 José Ramos García, Relaciones México-Estados Unidos: Seguridad Nacional e Impactos en la Frontera Norte 40 (University of Baja California Press, 2005).         [ Links ]

132 Guadalupe González & Marta Tienda, The Drug Connection in US-Mexican Relations 6 (University of California Press, 2004).         [ Links ]

133 Abraham Lowenthal, Renewing Cooperation in the Americas, in The Obama Administration and the Americas: Agenda for Change 1, 12 (Abraham Lowenthal et al. eds., 2009).         [ Links ]

134 Lars-Erik Cederman & Christopher Daase, Endogenizing Corporate Identities: The Next Step in Constructivist IR Theory, 9 European Journal of International Relations 5, 12 (2003).         [ Links ]

135 Clifford, supra note 23, at 6.

136 Nixon, supra note 32.

137 ONDCP, 1996 NDCS 32 (1996).

138 ONDCP, 2008 NDCS 47 (2008).

139 George Bush, Remarks at the International Drug Enforcement Conference (1989), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

140 Rowley & Weldes, supra note 12, at 199.

141 Alexander Wendt, Social Theory of International Politics 283 (Cambridge University Press, 1999).         [ Links ]

142 José Merquior, Foucault 11 (University of California Press, 1987).         [ Links ]

143 Campbell, supra note 18, at 7.

144 Stavrakakis, supra note 118, at 80.

145 ONDCP, 2010 NDCS, 7 (2010).

146 Karin Fierke & Knud Jorgensen, Constructing International Relations: The Next Generation 45 (M.E. Sharpe, 2001).         [ Links ]

147 Clifford, supra note 23, at 7.

148 Michael Shapiro, Reading the Postmodern Polity: Political Theory as Textual Practice 107 (University of Minnesota Press, 1992).         [ Links ]

149 George Orwell, 1984 192-197(Penguin, 1977).         [ Links ]

150 Doty, supra note 21, at 98.

151 Jutta Weldes, Constructing National Interests: The United States and the Cuban Missile Crisis 22 (University of Minnesota Press, 1999).         [ Links ]

152 Wall Street Journal, Felipe Calderón: Interview Transcript, (last visited February 20, 2012).

153 Human Rights Watch, Incarcerated America: Human Rights Watch Backgrounder 1 (2003),         [ Links ]

154 Kerlikowske, supra note 1.

155 Mark Colvin, Crime and Coercion: An Integrated Theory of Chronic Criminality 85 (Palgrave, 2000).         [ Links ]

156 ONDCP, 2011 NDCS III (2011),         [ Links ]

157 Department of State, Congressional Budget Justification: Foreign Operations (2012),         [ Links ]

158 Gary Hufbauer & Jeffrey Schott, Nafta Revisited: Achievements and Challenges 4 (Peterson Institute Press, 2005).         [ Links ]

159 Adalberto Santana, El narcotráfico en América Latina 157 (Siglo XXI, 2004).         [ Links ]

160 Jean-Paul Sartre, The Transcendence of the Ego: A Sketch for a Phenomenological Description 28 (Routledge, 2004).         [ Links ]

161 James Carter, Address to the Nation on Energy and National Goals (1979), (last visited February 20, 2012).         [ Links ]

^rND^nAdam^sIsacson^rND^nChristina^sRowley^rND^nJutta^sWeldes^rND^nKarin^sFierke^rND^nMichael^sBarnett^rND^nChristian^sReus-Smit^rND^nMarlene^sWind^rND^nRodolphe^sGasché^rND^nTed^sHopf^rND^nRobert^sPutnam^rND^nHarry^sGould^rND^nKelly^sSzott^rND^nWilliam^sConnolly^rND^nChristian^sReus-Smit^rND^nGil^sFriedman^rND^nHarvey^sStarr^rND^nJulie^sAyling^rND^nDavid^sCampbell^rND^nRiordan^sRoett^rND^nBill^sSpencer^rND^nWilliam^sWalker III^rND^nNora^sHamilton^rND^nElizabeth^sDauphinee^rND^nPetrus^sSpierenburg^rND^nThomas^sPapadimos^rND^nStuart^sMurray^rND^nMichael^sKenney^rND^nRobert^sLeiken^rND^nBranka^sArsic^rND^nLuiza^sBialasiewicz^rND^nAbraham^sLowenthal^rND^nLars-Erik^sCederman^rND^nChristopher^sDaase^rND^1A01^nJorge Arturo^sÁlvarez Tovar^rND^1A01^nJorge Arturo^sÁlvarez Tovar^rND^1A01^nJorge Arturo^sÁlvarez Tovar



Why Has the Transition to Democracy Led the Mexican Presidential System to Political Instability? A Proposal to Enhance Institutional Arrangements*


Jorge Arturo Álvarez Tovar**


Recibido: 11 de noviembre de 2011.
Aceptado para su publicación: 23 de enero de 2012.



Over the past two decades, Mexico has gone from an authoritarian regime to an electoral democracy. Although this change is undoubtedly positive, the institutional engineering in place and the balance of power among institutions has led to increased political instability and a latent risk of political paralysis. There is substantial literature asserting that these problems may be connected to the core characteristics of presidential systems; however, I demonstrate that in the Mexican case, it is also due to the electoral rules derivedfrom the reforms of the 1990s and the subsequent electoral results. To substantiate this claim, I present the historical conformation of the presidential, political and electoral systems, as well as the balance of power derivedfrom later system structures and the problems that can trigger instability. Finally, in response to the vast amount of literature that asserts that presidential systems generally shift to a parliamentary or semi-presidential system to perform better, I present an original formula based on relatively simple andfeasible political reforms that can enhance the Mexican presidential system and prevent political paralysis.

Key Words: Balance of power, democracy, presidential, parliamentary, amd Semi-presidential systems, institutional arrangements.



Durante las dos décadas pasadas, México ha transitado de un régimen autoritario a una democracia electoral. Aun y cuando dicho cambio es sin duda positivo, el entramado institucional conjuntamente con el balance de poder entre instituciones ha generado en el sistema inestabilidad política creciente y riesgo latente de parálisis institucional. Vasta literatura señala que estos problemas pueden ser originados por las características propias de los sistemas presidencialistas, sin embargo demostraré que para el caso mexicano este es resultado fundamentalmente de las reglas electorales derivadas de las reformas de los años noventa, y los resultados derivados de estas reformas. Para fundamentar esta aseveración, en este trabajo presentaré desde una perspectiva histórica la configuración de nuestros sistemas presidencialista y electoral. Asimismo mostrare el balance de poder derivado de la configuración de los sistemas mencionados y los peligros generados por esta configuración que detonaron la inestabilidad. Finalmente y contrario a la vasta literatura que asegura que los sistemas presidenciales están condenados a transitar a un sistema parlamentario o semi-parlamentario a fin de operar de mejor manera, presentare una formula innovadora basada en una relativamente simple y posible reforma política que reforzara el sistema presidencialista mexicano y ayudara a evitar la parálisis política.

Palabras clave: Balance de poder, democracia, sistemas presidencial, parlamentario y semi-presidencial, arreglos institucionales.



I. Introduction

II. Presidential Systems

III. Transition to Democracy: Evolution of Institutional Arrangements and the Balance of Power

1. Post-Revolutionary Period: Conformation of Presidential Power

2. Role of Parties and Congress in the Process of Democratization

3. Electoral Reforms of the 1990s and the Subsequent Balance of Power

IV. Remaining Threats to Mexican Presidentialism: A Proposal to Enhance the System

1. Remaining Threats to Democracy in Mexico

2. Enhancing the Mexican Presidential System

A. Endowing Legitimacy to the Executive Mandate

B. Reorienting Legislators towards Their Constituencies

C. Fostering Cooperation among Branches

V. Conclusions


I. Introduction

Many scholars have argued that Mexico completed its transition to democracy in the year 2000 when the country experienced its first alternation in power. This was an important feature which Mexico was lacking in order to be classified as a democratic country. Although there is some debate as to what type of democracy Mexico is, this discussion is outside the scope of this article.

This article argues that even though the Mexican presidential system has been moving forward over the last two decades to enhance democracy and its political institutions, there are still some latent dangers due to the institutional arrangements of the system, some of which are derived from the historical conformation of the regimes and others from core characteristics of the presidential system. Specifically, the main claim of the article at hand is that a transition to democracy can lead the Mexican system to the real possibility of political paralysis characterized by legislative gridlock regarding structural reforms and the risk of ungovernability, generated by the separation of powers and the absence of cooperation among institutions. To substantiate this claim, this article studies the shift in the balance of power among institutions —as a consequence of the electoral results of 1997— combined with the institutional arrangements set in place: plural rule for electing the president, the absence of reelection for legislators, and the separation of powers with no incentives for cooperative games.

As citizens decide on the distribution of power by casting their votes, it is possible to engineer a policy-oriented solution to the problem by improving existing institutional arrangements. More specifically, this article argues that the following three specific reforms to institutional arrangements are required to enhance governability in Mexico: (i) establishing a second round runoff for electing the president; (ii) reinstating legislative reelection; and (iii) introducing an alternative mechanism to foster cooperation among institutions. We believe these reforms will give way to a different set of arrangements that will lead to enhanced governability.

In the first section of this article, I will briefly discuss the core institutional arrangements which define presidential systems. I will also present some of the debate in literature regarding the dangers that can derive from such institutional engineering. Throughout the discussion, I will sometimes compare this system with others for the sake of clarity.

The second section of this article provides a brief overview of the development of the institutional arrangements under Mexico's post-revolutionary presidential regime. I point out that before the transition to democracy there was a significant gap between de jure and de facto powers. I then describe the role of the opposition in the democratization process, to finally analyze the evolution of electoral engineering from 1990 to 2006, in which major reforms were made to the system to bring about an important shift in the balance of power by democratizing institutions and effectively separating the powers central to presidential systems.

In the third section, I argue that the new configuring derived from electoral reforms, combined with old institutional and constitutional arrangements, left the system exposed to: (i) legislative gridlock (in terms of structural reforms), (ii) political instability, due to low legitimacy of mandate; and (iii) ungovernability, making it more difficult for the government to put forward and successfully champion its agenda. The last part of this section focuses on providing what, in my perspective, are the reforms needed in terms of institutional engineering to overcome the perils that can still be found in the system.

Although I am well aware of many other things deemed necessary to enhance democracy and governability, the rationale behind this analysis is that addressing the proposed reforms will generate a more balanced and standardized political system and, more importantly, it will create a system aimed at fulfilling citizens' needs.


II. Presidential Systems

In the institutional engineering of democratic political regimes, countries can be classified in one of two categories, often referred to as "pure" regimes:1 parliamentary and presidential. Many scholars have argued that the latter type of system tends to be more unstable than the former and therefore, parliamentary systems are considered superior. 2 Some empirical analyses have suggested that parliamentary regimes are longer-lived and democracy is more likely to survive under such regimes.3 Other authors have shown that whether countries opt for one system or the other, they tend to add certain variations to it. This variability has led to a somewhat inadequate definition of these regimes. The most distinct spin-off of the presidential system was classified by Duverger in 1970 as a semi-presidential system.4

Whether there are three main criteria for defining presidential systems5 or two features that stand out of such systems,6 most scholars agree that these systems embody the following characteristics: both the congress and the president are in power for a fixed term as the result of a direct (or direct-like)7 election and interaction between both branches is independent of the other (i.e., both have a popular mandate and neither the president can disband the congress nor can congress dismiss the president and his cabinet). 8

The separation of powers is a result of the first characteristic. Because of this separation, the president is responsible and accountable for the executive branch, and has the power to appoint and dismiss his cabinet without the approval of congress (There are some exceptions as in the case of the United States where congress ratifies certain appointments). Lijphart9 defines this idea as a one-person executive in a presidential system. According to Linz,10 one of the drawbacks of this core characteristic of presidential system is what he calls the "winner takes all" factor. In other words, the president completely controls the executive branch and cabinet appointments, thus taking all while the losing candidate loses all. Przeworsky11 also argues in favor of Linz's argument, stating that presidential systems form a zero-sum game because a president is in a position to establish a government that does not include losers. Under this system, the losing candidate cannot even be part of government as he can in the case of the parliamentary system, in which the runner-up becomes the leader of the opposition. Thus, victory seems to be greater and defeat is also more pronounced in presidential systems whereas the rules of the parliamentary system multiplies the payoff and the loser is encouraged to remain active in the democratic game. Carpizo12 dismisses the "winner takes all" argument because this position is largely unattainable in situations in which the president does not have the majority in one or both chambers. Furthermore, in response to those who say parliamentary systems are more stable, Carpizo counters that setting up government under a parliamentary system with several political parties requires forming coalitions that are not always stable. This in turn can bring about constant changes in the cabinet and thereby political instability. Along this same line, Cheibub et al.13 contend that when no party holds a congressional majority in a presidential system, coalition governments take shape more than half the time, and even more frequently if no single party holds more than a third of the seats in congress. Most democratic presidential systems have a system of checks and balances since each branch has its own source of authority as well as an independent mandate from the people. This characteristic points at a second drawback of presidential systems, something Linz14 calls "dual democratic legitimacy." This means that both the congress and the president can claim democratic legitimacy, although the latter's is often considered more encompassing since congress only represents part of the population15 while the president represents the country as a whole. Regardless of which branch claims to have more legitimate power, checks and balances can minimize or even eliminate the "winner takes all" effect, especially in the case of a divided congress. Checks and balances may differ defacto and dejure and in certain circumstances, e.g., when the president's party holds the majority in congress, the president tends to dominate the legislative branch as well.

Linz16 also asserts that presidential regimes are rather rigid compared to parliamentary systems when dealing with a possible change in power if the president fails to deliver or has lost the confidence of congress or his own party. In the presidential system, the president is elected for a fixed term and will stay in power until the end of that term; whereas in the parliamentary system, if a prime minister has lost the confidence of parliament, it is highly unlikely he will remain in power. For the sake of argument, let us say that Linz's argument presupposes a president who begins his term with his party's confidence and that congress gives him the benefit of the doubt before losing the support of one or both. In this case, Linz's concern can even be taken a step further to illustrate a situation in which the president never actually obtained the confidence of congress. Presidential systems with many political parties participating in elections have shown that a president can be elected with low percentages of popular support. Moreover, the support a president receives in a general election can significantly differ from that of congress since voters may cast votes for candidates from different parties. Even more worrisome is the fact that after a controversial election, a president can assume power under polarized circumstances that stem from low legitimacy levels.

Proponents of presidentialism claim that "accountability" is a strong point in favor of these systems.17 Since citizens directly elect their president, they know exactly who they voted for, who they granted the power to govern to and who is responsible for government. In contrast, voters in parliamentary systems do not actually know beforehand what parties will be part of the governing coalition or who their leader will be, especially under minority governments. Thus, in terms of accountability, parliamentary systems spread the responsibility among the prime minister, the cabinet and the parliament, whereas in presidential regimes, responsibility is easy to attach to the president. Linz's criticizes presidential systems that do not allow the president to run for re-election because in his view, "a president who can not be re-elected is unaccountable."18 Furthermore, it can be said that the diffusion of sharing responsibility is even greater in presidential systems than in parliamentary regimes since the president can "accuse" congress of not letting him govern properly and pursue his agenda because congress blocks the required reforms.

So far, the discussion about presidential regimes has been addressed from the executive's standpoint, as it is in most literature. However, congresses in presidential systems have been claiming a more preponderant role in the public sphere as a collegiate policy maker. Most policies targeting the society are currently entitled by a piece of legislation or a congressional act. The budget cycle is a clear example of enhanced legislative power over the policy-making process and increased control over checks and balances since congress has taken on a more effective role in all the stages of the process: preparation, approval, execution, and accountability/review. Moreover, in budget execution, congress has gained more power over government expenditure policies by regulating social programs and grounding them in law. For instance, in the United States, only about one third of all federal spending is controlled in the annual appropriation process while spending for entitlement programs is determined by their enabling laws.19 These laws impose a significant constraint on government policy-making. In order execute his agenda, the president needs to act and cooperate with congress. On the flipside, Carpizo20 stresses that under the traditional parliamentary system, namely the British one, if a single party attains the majority in the House of Commons, the leader of the winning party becomes prime minister and controls the parliament. Therefore, the legislative branch exerts no control whatsoever over the executive branch due to both party discipline and the fact that most MPs do not want anticipated elections.

If we agree that, in theory, presidential systems are more difficult to successfully perform because of core institutional arrangements, several questions should be considered: Is presidentialism incapable of delivering? Is there a way to improve a presidential regime? Some scholars (e.g., Linz) argue that the answer to a presidential system's problems lies in its evolution to a parliamentary system, while others (e.g., Sartori)21 propose a "less drastic" change (in terms of constitutional engineering) to a semi-presidential or "alternating presidentialism" system. In this article, I will argue that Sartori's view is probably more appealing in the case of Mexico. In the next section, I will briefly describe the structure of the Mexican system before going on to present my proposals to reform key institutional arrangements.


III. Transition to Democracy: Evolution of Institutional Arrangements and the Balance of Power

Since its independence the history of Mexico has been characterized by an unstable political order and a long list of "monarchs" and "warlords." However, Mexico is different from other Latin American histories in that it has never been under military dictatorship. Mexican regimes may have been rather authoritarian —led by a man with either a military or civil background— but political institutions have never been subjected to military rule. Although Mexico did hold regular elections, they was dominated by a single party in power for more than six decades because of the following mechanisms: a) an all-powerful president who, according to some scholars, had both constitutional and "meta-constitutional" powers (see Meyer, 1993; Carpizo and Cordova, 1985); and b) frequently changing electoral rules, which helped exert control over congress. Using Merkel's22 theoretical concept of democracy, these circumstances fit perfectly into one of his four types of "defective democracies:" delegative democracy.23

It is necessary to know several key historical facts to understand the current institutional arrangements in the Mexican presidential system and the evolution of the balance of power among institutions over the last two decades. This section will cover these facts, though the following description is not intended to be a comprehensive review of Mexican history; rather, it is a somewhat subjective overview of historical episodes that help understand how the system is conformed.


1. Post-Revolutionary Period: Conformation of Presidential Power

As a result of President Santa Ana's eleven terms in office and Porfirio Diaz's three decades in power during the so-called "Pofriato," one of the principal demands of the 1910 revolution was that of banning presidential re-election. Porfirio Diaz's long period in power was to a large extent possible due to his restrictive policies of sharing and distributing the economic benefits with a small elite group of politicians, businessmen, bankers and landowners. By distributing the rents of the economic growth among these key groups, Diaz secured his permanence in power. However, the same policy that kept him in power was also responsible for his exile. Large groups of peasants and a growing working class, who were earning no rent from these elitist policies, organized and started to mobilize themselves and attack the government, demanding equal privileges for all. After Diaz's exile, his successors, first Madero and then Huerta, tried to address the demands of the newly organized groups, particularly the small farmers via a land reform that aimed at significantly redistributing land. However, an unstable environment and the inability to deliver on the promises resulted in Madero's assassination while Huerta was overthrown and exiled. As a result, two revolutionary movements emerged: the constitutionalists, led by Carranza; and the anti-constitutionalists, divided into two different groups in northern and southern Mexico led by Villa and Zapata, respectively. Carranza defeated these groups and garnered support by "forging alliances with groups that were committed to far-reaching social reforms."24 Consequently, the 1917 Constitution (which is still in effect) was comprehensive in terms of including several of the new stakeholders, such as peasants, the working class, and businessmen. However, in terms of institutional arrangements, the text of the constitution enhanced the president's powers and placed him in a higher position than congress.

The same practices of patronage and rent distribution remained in place during the subsequent presidencies of Obregon (1920-1924) and Calles (1924-1928). However, in terms of political organization, by the end of the 1920s, around 150 parties had emerged, each demanding a share of the rents and insisting the revolution benefit them too. Obregon was reelected in 1928 —against the revolutionary demand of no re-election— thanks to a reform Calles carried out by convincing the congress to amend the constitution so as to allow reelection for non-consecutive terms. Obregon was then assassinated which resulted in Calles' reemerging as the strongest political figure in the country. President Calles was aware that the history of warlords and monarchs was still fresh in people's minds. Thus, instead of following Obregon's path, Calles decided to become the man behind the power and establish what is known in Mexico's history as the "Maximato."25 Calles appointed the next three Mexican presidents who were each under his command.

Calles knew the benefits of patronage politics and as an experienced leader who was well versed in forming coalitions, he unified most of the 150 parties into a single party, the PNR (which is now known as the PRI) by creating a common ground to deliberate on and solve the ever-increasing demands. This unification was made possible by creating a de facto single-party system with a single figure as its head. Calles' last appointee in 1934 was President Lázaro Cardenas, who turned out to be a drawback for "el jefe." Even though Cardenas concurred with the idea of maintaining a single figure at the head of the party and the government, he believed this figure ought to be the incumbent president. Since Cardenas's presidency, some of the practices established within the single party in power became practically institutionalized within the PNR party. These practices, or more precisely meta-constitutional powers, include: presidential appointment of the president's successor (as well as appointing governors and candidates for both chambers) and absolute control of the official (PNR) party. Both of these practices were in place until the end of the 20th century. "Until the 1990s, the PRI held an effective monopoly on the exercise of the political power. Indeed, the line between the party and the government blurred to the point that they were often viewed as one and the same."26

Thus, President Cardenas severed the bond with the long history of long-term presidents and weak presidents, who sometimes remained in power for even less than a year, in a politically unstable environment emanating from pre- or post-revolutionary processes. Cárdenas legitimized and enhanced the power in hands of the president as Meyer27 describes in the following lines: "[t]he presidential power under the new Mexican regime was only consolidated since General Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940). Then and only then, could the president have absolute constitutional and meta-constitutional powers."28 Some of the meta-constitutional powers Meyer refer to are: control over institutions, courts, local governments, congress, mass media and even some of the minor political parties. Cardenas did impose one limit on these powers, namely a term limit, which he respected at the end of his mandate.

The same presidential powers were transferred from president to president over the following 60 years under the shelter of same party.29 Some questions that arise at this point are: How did the PRI manage to keep their power so effectively? If the PRI was so powerful, what caused its defeat? The following section will attempt at answering both of these questions.


2. Role of Parties and Congress in the Process of Democratization

The "official" party (PRI) continued to grow over the following years to gradually include a wider range of social sectors. In 1938, the party had already built up strong bases in the working class, peasants the armed forces and many social organizations. Scholars track the creation of corporatism in Mexico to this particular point in time. Corporatism was the main way of controlling and keeping power primarily through cooptation and repression. Over the following decades, the system ran smoothly not only because of the president's and the "official" party's absolute power, but also due to sustained economic growth attributed to the import substitution model. Between 1954 and 1970, the GDP grew at an average rate of 6.7% a year.30

With such overwhelming power over political institutions and social sectors, how can the downturn of the PRI's monopoly of power be explained? Three primary factors that had an impact on the PRI's political hegemony can be attributed to the party's decline: (1) the student mobilization in the late 1960s; (2) the economic shocks of the late 1970s and early 1980s; and (3) the electoral reforms (in response to a growing opposition and a greater need for legitimization).

The 1968 student mobilization —which was brutaly repressed— took place on the verge of the Olympic Games in Mexico. This public mass repression had a significant impact on the official party hegemony. These events made the population aware of the limits of the power exerted by the "authoritarian regime" (or their absence). The social movement did not only include riots and social protests, but also brought in more participation from the intellectual sector as more and more scholars began to oppose the regime.

The economic shocks in the late 70s and early 80s also had a major impact on the political support of the official regime. During this period, the import substitution model and state-led industrialization proved to be deficient. According to Meyer,31 the problem can be traced back to the need for investing in the inefficient industrial sector, which was incapable to export its goods. Hence, the government's response to this was to go into external debt. This was possible through readily available private loans, as well as resources offered at that time by international financial institutions. Pastor32 asserts that in the 1970s, the International Monetary Fund relaxed the conditions to access funds. Due to these developments, by the second half of the 70s, the Mexican economy had blatant over-borrowing, inflation (27%) and a significant devaluation of its currency (76%) in 1976. The change in government the same year was blessed by the 1977 discovery of "Cantarell" —an important oil reservoir. High international oil prices raised government expectations and so it continued to borrow —using oil as collateral— and spend even more over the following years. However, in 1982, a sudden drop in oil prices left the indebted Mexican government in one of the worst economic crises in its history, leading the country to default on its external debt. Thus, the absence of rents to distribute and the extreme impact it had on all sectors of the society eroded popular support for the PRI.

As a change in power was virtually unthinkable, the only possible way the opposition could start incrementally gaining ground in the political arena was through congress. Since its founding in 1939, the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) has been the main opposition to the PRI. "In the 50s and 60s, with a distinctive ideology and opposite to that of the Mexican Revolution, the PAN obtained visibility and public adepts. However, over that period, its role was merely testimonial."33

Although underrepresented in congress, the PAN started to change the dynamics of the political scene. The PRI instituted certain electoral reforms in the 30s, 40s and 50s to enhance presidential control over institutions. These moves alienated the opposition, who, in a strategy that paid off, decided to stop playing the "democratic" game by not proposing presidential candidates and refusing to take the seats won in congress. Hence, the PRI party —always concerned with maintaining the formalities of the democratic game— had to make sure of keeping up appearances. In response, the government offered political liberalization in exchange for the continued participation of opposition parties in the electoral arena.34

In the early 60s, the race towards a more democratic system began. However, the dominant party intended to maintain its hegemony and so passed a reform in 1962 to introduce the so called "diputados de partido" [party deputies], which was a form of proportional representation (PR) to ensure the participation of other parties. As summarized by Molinar Horcasitas et al.:35

The party deputy system was a two-tier system, with linkage between the tiers to limit the number of seats that a party could win from the list tier [...] The nominal tier included 178 seats in SSDs [single seats districts], chosen by plurality in which any party could compete. The list tier was reserved for minority parties, defined as parties with 2.5% or more of the national vote, but which had won fewer than twenty SSDs [...] parties were entitled to five seats if they reach the legal threshold of 2.5% of the national vote; then they received one seat for each 0.5% [...].

Since the PRI party was confident of its absolute dominance over SSDs, it created the incentives for minority parties to join the democratic game. However, the system established clearly favored minority parties at the expense of the PAN. In 1977, the "diputado de partido" system was abandoned in favor of an actual mixed system. The seats in the chamber of deputies/congress were increased to 300 for SSDs and 100 for multi-seat districts (MSDs), which were assigned according to each party's lists. Further reforms were carried out by the ruling party, but now with some negotiation with the opposition. One outcome of these bargaining processes was the 1986 electoral law. Electoral reforms evolved in such a way that delayed the democratization process as they created a rather divided opposition that competed against each other for seats in congress rather than joining forces to overthrow the PRI. Eventually, though, electoral competition arrived.

According to some scholars, the 1988 election under the new law marked the opening to political competition. The PRI faced two strong opposition parties, the historically second strongest party, the PAN, and a coalition of left-wing parties supporting a candidate of the PRD party founded by former PRI members. The PRI was declared the winner with 50.74% of the votes. This was the lowest number of votes received by the incumbent party in its history. And, for the first time ever, the PRI lost its qualified majority in the chamber of deputies required to make constitutional reforms. For Molinar Horcasitas et al.,36 this moment in time marked the evolution of politics in Mexico and shifted the debate towards political liberalization.


3. Electoral Reforms of the 1990s and the Subsequent Balance of Power

Since the 1988 results, further reforms were introduced to the federal electoral law with each party pulling in a different direction. The PRI wanted to restore its former hegemonic position while the opposition parties led by the PAN and the PRD wanted to create a more independent electoral body. In the negotiation process, the PAN accepted a reform which largely benefited the PRI in 1991. However, PAN had two different goals: first, to ensure that winners —of federal states governorships— would be recongnized as such; and second, to make the electoral body more independent. These efforts brought about the creation of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which in 1996 became completely independent.

The 1996 reform and the enactment of the COFIPE37 (Federal Code for Institutions and Electoral Procedures) were designed to guarantee a fair process and reassert the importance of political parties. Although there has been a series of further reforms to the COFIPE, the voting system used for seats in congress has remained the same, a mixed system with 300 SSDs and 200 MSDs.38 The threshold for PR seats was increased to 2% of the national vote and the cap for overrepresentation was set at 8%.

The results of Chamber of Deputies elections between 1988 and 2009 in Table 1 below clearly show that since 1988 congress has been characterized by the absence of a majority (except in the 55th legislature) and a clear multi-party system with three main parties and some minor parties. Thus, the presidential regime a single party in power and controlling the Chamber of Deputies was no longer in place. Therefore, any president who wanted to carry out a specific agenda would now have to seek support from one or two of the opposition parties.

The main goal of the electoral reforms of the 1990s was to create a clear, fair and trustworthy legal framework that coincided with the new conditions of plurality and competition. The creation of the IFE and the Federal Electoral Court (TEPJF)39 was key in achieving the results shown in Table 1. This influence was not just due to their establishing clearer electoral processes, but also their sanctioning and legitimizing election results.

After the results of the Chamber of Deputies elections, presidential power eroded to the point of implosion. The PRI was no longer capable of maintaining hegemonic power over institutions. The 1994 election results were proof of a plural population. Though the PRI won the presidential seat, the PAN party consolidated itself as the PRI's main opposition, and PRD remained as a third rival (see Table 2). The scenario changed in 2000 when the PAN presidential candidate won the election. These results were unequivocally a show of citizens' commitment to the transition to democracy. The change of power was effected through the so called "voto util," which meant that people basically cast their votes for the candidate with more probability of winning against the PRI. People also used their prerogative for a "split vote" by then voting for their preferred party for seats in congress.

The scenario changed again in 2006 in what has been considered the narrowest and most contentious election ever. This time the PRI dropped to the third place —going from 48% of total votes in 1994 to 22% in 2006. In my opinion, this suggests that the "voto útil" was used once again as the two parties at the "extremes" of the political spectrum fought for the presidential seat. After much deliberation, the TEPJF declared PAN candidate Felipe Calderón by a difference of just 0.58%. This decision was received with a series of riots and other forms of public protest, particularly in Mexico City, for almost a year. In such an extremely polarized political situation, Congress also showed signs of division.

Hence, for almost 20 years now,40 citizens have opted to choose their leaders and representatives from different parties, reflecting the country's transition from a somewhat authoritarian regime with a hegemonic party in power to an electoral democracy.41

Among the many problems new regimes have to face, there is a lack of coordination and cooperation between the executive and legislative branches. This often leads to legislative gridlock, particularly when dealing with "structural reforms" that aim at significantly reforming the constitution or federal laws.


IV. Remaining Threats to Mexican Presidentialism: A Proposal to Enhance the System

However, there are still potential threats to presidentialism Characterized by Sartori as "genius" and "unique,"42 Mexican presidentialism has consistently adjusted its institutional arrangements to ensure that the system will continue to work: the "winner-takes-all" situation from an executive perspective, and few inducements to engage in cooperative games with the executive, from a legislative standpoint. Thus, legislative gridlock is still a possibility that can hamper attempts to bring about the presidential agenda, as is poor performance resulting in less political stability.

This final section is divided into two sections: the first section addresses the institutional arrangements that can increase the risk of political instability and poor performance from both executive and legislative perspectives; the second section briefly proposes a possible course of action to enhance the institutional arrangements needed to foster cooperation and encourage good performance.


1. Remaining Threats to Democracy in Mexico

As Carrillo and Lujambio43 have pointed out, unusual situations call for greater cooperation/more negotiation among political parties, which in fact entails a new institutional learning process for the polity.44 Thus, the new balance of power has presented the Mexican system with the new challenge of engaging in cooperative games with the opposition and institutions. In my opinion, the lack of cooperation between the executive and legislative branches, especially in the current administration, has augmented possibility of legislative gridlock. Although the polity has shown maturity in the effective separation of powers environment, the institutional arrangements and the electoral results opened the door for such pitfalls.

In its bicameral legislative system, the Mexican Constitution gives both chambers and the president the power to present initiatives on almost all matters.45 The chambers46 have to approve all initiatives by absolute majority, unless a two-thirds vote has been established in the constitution. Upon its approval in congress, the bill is sent to the executive, who in the absence of comments will officially publish the bill which at the moment of publication becomes a law. The Constitution also establishes a president's power of veto, which congress can only override with two-thirds in both chambers. Only then will the bill become a law.

With these institutional arrangements and the distribution of seats in congress shown in Table 1 since the 2000 and 2006 presidential elections, the possibility of legislative gridlock has been present: the president's party (PAN) did not have the majority, controlling 213/500 and 206/500 seats, respectively. Thus, simple math shows that neither could the president pass legislation without a legislative coalition, nor could the opposition in congress override a presidential veto. After the 2003 and 2009 mid-term elections the conformation of congress changed, leaving the PAN with less than one third of seats and the president in an extremely weak position with no legislative power whatsoever.

As Barracca pointed out,47 President Fox "experienced the frustrations of trying to rule with a divided government" as he failed to pass important and polemical pieces of legislation, which were blocked by the PRI and the PRD. When President Calderón took office, he showed more sensibility in the bargaining process by negotiating with the opposition in congress — mainly with the PRI— to approve a tax reform at the end of 2006. In 2008, President Calderon embarked on a major reform in the energy sector, the same one former President Fox had attempted to pass when in office, and succeeded. However, the reform was diluted to such an extent that President Fox considered it a Pyrrhic victory in view of what had originally been sent to congress.

The separation of powers and the shift of power towards congress —due to the distribution of a similar number of seats among the three main parties— have changed the Mexican hyper-presidential system to one with a strong separation of powers. Furthermore, the plurality rule for electing the president under the 3+ effective parties system has caused an even split of the votes for the main parties' candidates (one third of the votes for each party). Thus, as seen in the 2006 presidential election, the difference between the runner-up and the winner can be as little as less than one percentage point. Why can strong separation of powers and close electoral competitions be such an aberrant arrangement?

The fact that the president has to make an effort in bargaining to pass legislation should not be a problem; it is in fact a feature of the separation of powers that is intended to generate more measured policies. As stressed by Mainwaring et al.,48 party discipline makes it easier for the president to negotiate with party leaders, rather than having to negotiate with individual MCs, thus simplifying the process. However, Cheibub49 asserts that disciplined parties can hinder the president's ability to form a coalition to approve specific legislation, as in the case of Mexico. Mexico's specific institutional engineering can turn this apparently positive effect into something negative. The combination of strong partisanship with the absence of reelection creates a system in which MCs prefer to follow the party line than that of citizens since MCs cannot be punished with not being reelected by voters, but can be penalized with not being promoted to higher positions by their party leader.

To better illustrate the high level of party discipline in Mexico, I have developed a simple index which, although imperfect, gives a sense of how disciplined parties are when voting on important reforms. The index is based on the following:

— I collected a data set with information on all the votes cast for each constitutional reform between 1998 and 2010 and divided it by legislature;
— The total votes were classified by party (the three main parties plus one of the minor parties, the PVEM)50 and the way each party member cast his or her vote (for, against or abstention) was further analyzed;
— The simple formula PDi = Mv*100/Tv was applied to this information with PDi standing for Party Discipline of Party i; Mv, for the majority of party members voting the same way; and Tv, for the total number of votes that party emitted.
— Finally, all the Legislatures were then added to obtain an average for each party.

As seen in the results in Table 3, the voting tendencies of each party have been consistent in five legislatures. Taking a closer look, the PAN was the least disciplined party during the 57th Legislature when it was part of the opposition, but that once in power (from 58th Legislature onwards), party discipline increased significantly. The PRI party had almost 99.6% of party discipline when it was last in power, but it became an opposition party, discipline dropped to 91%.

Unlike Lijphart's51assertion that presidential systems discourage multipar-tyism and cohesive parties, as shown in Table 3, the Mexican case is different: parties are the only institutions that can promote candidates for public office, and so party cohesion is strong. In fact, members who do not align themselves with party leadership are dismissed or tend to withdraw from the party to join or found a different party (as in the case of the schism in the PRI, which led to the creation of the PRD).

Incentives for MCs are set up so that MCs clearly align themselves with party leadership. Therefore, if we assume that parties' main concerns —especially for the opposition— is to have access to power (whether executive or legislative) and a successful government increases the odds of remaining in power, opposition party leaders will not engage in cooperative games, MCs will tend to become office-seekers, and citizens will be left out of the equation. Likewise, under such circumstances, as Carrillo et al. pointed out,52 the opposition has no incentives to cooperate: if they do with successful results, the president will take all the credit, increasing his chances (or those of his party) of staying in power, but if the opposite occurs, all the members of the opposition will share in the failure.

Further concern is presented by the number of "effective parties" in the Mexican presidential system. According to Weldon,53 the effective number of parties (Nυ) in Mexico has increased with each electoral reform from 1988 to 1997, culminating in an of 3.42 in 1997, a figure that has remained almost the same. This is partially due to the fact that low 2% threshold required to remain in the democratic game has created an array of parties coming in and out of the game over the years. Thus, the PAN, the PRI, and the PRD can be considered the three Nυ. The PVEM, a party that has consistently appeared on the ballots since 1997 and increased its number of seats by forging alliances with one of the three main parties, still lags behind the three major parties. For the sake of simplicity, I will only take into account the = 3.

Statistical analysis in Cheibub's work (2002), as well as his argument, suggests that the effective number of political parties increases the likelihood of a minority government. However, the author asserts that it is not the that affects presidential systems in terms of the survival of the regime, but rather circumstances of very low pluralism. This opinion is shared by Sartori,54 in what he calls "moderate pluralism," which "encompasses between three and five relevant parties."

For Cheibub,55 it is not the existence of <3 <5 that is the problem per se, but rather the distribution of power (number of seats shared) among these parties, which can lead to a break down in the system since each party will try to put forward its preferred policy. Furthermore, he stresses, any coalitions created within this context would be unstable. To prove that cases in which <3 <5 are more likely to generate an even distribution of seats, he develops the "index of equiproportionality" from the total number of seats held by the three major parties weighed against the number of seats held by the largest party. In his own words:56

This last measure is an index of equiproportionality among the three largest parties, at least in the range of cases in which the largest party gets more than 30% of the votes. In this range, the closer this number is to 1, the more concentrated is the distribution of strength among the three largest parties; the closer it is to 3, the more evenly divided are the seats held by the three largest parties.

Replicating the index to reflect the recent composition of the Mexican congress since the alternation in power confirms Cheibub's assertion. Table 4 shows that in three out of four elections, the index was above 2.10 whereas only in one (2009), it was 1.90, which is still relatively high. It should be noted that the index of equiproportionality decreases in mid-term elections (when only the lower chamber is elected), but in presidential elections, the president's party usually emerges as the strongest.

Hence, we can say that the Mexican system is one with 3+ main parties with an even distribution of power in which coalitions —but not long-lasting ones— can be formed for specific initiatives, making it possible for the opposition to blackmail the president's party. This encumbers the president's capacity for implementing his agenda, or at least the cost increases when it needs to go through congress, and therefore can lead to poor government performance if the president does not meet the demands of the opposition.


2. Enhancing the Mexican Presidential System

Throughout this article I have attempted to depict a somewhat clear, though not complete, picture of the Mexican presidential system since its creation and the rationale of its composition as it stands today. Presidentialism in Mexico has evolved in two different directions: 1) as a strategic response from the incumbent party to growing pressure from the opposition, which consisted of reforming the electoral system in such a way that discouraged collaboration among opposition parties and reinforced the hegemony of the party in power;57 and 2) as an array of somewhat collaborative efforts made by the three main parties to promote more equal competition, independent electoral institutions and fair and democratic elections.

However, as shown above, some threats persist: (i) low levels of legitimacy for the executive branch, (ii) party-oriented and office-seeking legislators; and (iii) a lack of cooperation. As a result, there is much need for improvement. The final section of this article presents some reforms that can be made to institutional arrangements to address each of the abovementioned threats and therefore enhance the Mexican presidential system.


A. Endowing Legitimacy to the Executive Mandate

The combination of plurality rule and three political parties with different positions on the political spectrum has brought the system to the precarious situation in which the president won the election by less than one percent.58 To solve this first problem, one proposal would be to change the current presidential election rules to a majority rule with a second-round runoff. This would legitimize the president without harming the plural nature of the system. As Colomer says,59

An electoral system based on the majority principle which tends to produce a single, absolute winner and subsequent absolute losers, must be considered a more risky choice [...] The corresponding results to be found in a long-term historical perspective should thus be increasing numbers and proportions of electoral system choices in favor of those formulas and procedures producing multiple winners, as well as a relative reduction of existing electoral systems producing a single absolute winner.

A second round runoff would give winners more legitimacy: if no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round, the two candidates with the most votes will go on to a second round —forcing both candidates to forge a stable coalition.

Even though I believe this would be the best solution for Mexican presidentialism, some drawbacks of this system must be mentioned. A second round runoff can give rise to new political parties, either because they expect to reach the second round or simply because they want to be part of a winning coalition and thus have a stake —however minor— in government. Nevertheless, with this practice, small parties can come to blackmail parties that make it to the second round. To prevent a "flood" of small political parties, the minimum threshold to be considered a political party should be doubled from 2% to 4%. A second caveat is related to turnout. A second round is likely to produce lower turnout, so if the system is already experiencing low levels of participation, the second round may not give a clear winner. To avoid such problems, the second round should coincide with legislative elections. Finally, a second round is perhaps more costly for citizens. Good campaign regulations and caps on resource allocation can minimize this effect, but not entirely. I also believe the supplementary vote should be analyzed in more detail as it represents an option for an instant runoff system, which can help avoid a costly second round.


B. Reorienting Legislators towards Their Constituencies

The constitutional prohibition of immediate reelection for all elected offices is a threat that hinders a political system from performing effectively. As mentioned in the second section of this article, the ban on reelection was put forward at the time of the Mexican revolution and still has a negative connotation in people's minds. In terms of congress, consecutive reelection was abolished in 1933, perhaps as the executive branch's way of enhancing its power in response to a more assertive congress.

In congress, the division of labor generally leads its members to acquire a certain degree of specialization that can benefit an institution. By sharing activities, giving unequal influence in different areas to different members of the institution, incentives are created for members to get to know their areas, developing specialized knowledge and accumulating relevant current information.60

In the absence of consecutive reelection, MCs have a three-year term limit which has several negative consequences: (i) it hampers their professionalization by not allowing them to advance in terms of a legislative career; (ii) it reduces their desire to engage in long-term policies (or projects); (iii) in most cases, it severs bonds with their constituencies from their very first day in office because MCs are not accountable to their constituents; (iv) their loyalties, as well as their interests, lie with the party; (v) the combination of points iii and iv transforms legislators into office-seekers; and (vi) a side effect is that it limits the possibility of carrying out civil service work with strong technical skills because senior staff is also constrained by the term limit.

Those defending the ban on consecutive reelection claim that the effects are not that negative since MCs can run for that same office again three years later. Furthermore, they point out, an MC can serve a 6-year term as Senator and then immediately be elected to the Chamber of Deputies, thus ensuring a 9-year period in congress, equal to three consecutive terms in the lower chamber. Lujambio61 disputes these opinions with evidence showing that between 1933 and 1995, only 379 (9%) out of 4,227 PRI MCs have been reelected (either by moving from one chamber to the other, or being elected again in a non consecutive period) at least once. Similar information for the PAN demonstrates that only 52 (11%) of 455 MCs from this party have been reelected since 1946.

Therefore, I propose reinstating consecutive reelection in both chambers, in the lower chamber for a maximum of three terms (12 years), and make it concide with one consecutive reelection in the senate (2 periods of 6 years). By granting greater independence from the centralized influence of their political parties, MCs will be able to redirect their attention to their constituents. This reform further aims at making MCs more accountable and more identifiable to citizens since less than the 5% of the population know who their representatives in congress are.

Although I am well aware of the perils that some scholars associate with reelection, I am confident that the advantages are greater than the disadvantages.


C. Fostering Cooperation among Branches

Of all the threats to the system and proposals to remedy the situation, I consider fostering cooperation the most complex. As discussed in the first section of this article, the separation of powers can bring some positive effects (checks and balances) to the regime, but it also has some negative aspects, the most contentious being the lack of cooperation among the different branches of power. We have discussed throughout this article we have given the historical and institutional reasons behind the breakdown of Mexico's institutional engineering.

Some scholars propose that presidential systems should abandon such institutional arrangements and move towards a parliamentary system (i.e. Linz, Valenzuela).62 Others have hinted that semi-presidential systems are more stable and solve some of the core problems of presidential systems (i.e. Elgie [1999, 2007], Sartori [1994, 1997], Lijphart [1994]).

Changing institutional arrangements from one system to another depends on specific aspects inherent to each country (history, momentum, balance of power, and so on). Sartori63 presents an alternative to the multi-cited systems: "alternating presidentialism" or "intermittent presidentialism." This system entails what he calls a "double engine," that is, a parliamentary system as the primary engine and a presidential system to be implemented when the former fails.

Sartori64 proposes this type of institutional arrangement for Mexico, stating that it would suit the country better than a semi-presidential system: "my suggestion [...] relates to the stage at which Mexico will be confronted with the reinforcement of parliament and executive-level transformation."65 Even though I concur with Sartori's "prediction" that Mexico would face the challenge of reinforcing parliament, as is the case today, I do not fully agree that it would be easy to implement this particular arrangement because presidential and parliamentary system constitutions simply require the presence of a prime minister or president, respectively. I believe alternating presidentialism would be difficult to understand and complicated to implement. It would most likely not be seen as a positive change, but rather an institutional breakdown.

Sartori's proposal would increase competition since the president would be waiting for the parliamentary system to fall apart so he can take it over. Therefore, I propose an alternative solution that could foster cooperation among institutions: unlike "alternating" systems, this would entail "coexistence" so that the system can work as a presidential or semi-presidential one in terms of election results. This could be achieved by instating three features: (i) a Head of Congress; (ii) congressional ratification of cabinet members; and (iii) line item veto and earmarked (preferential) initiatives.66

A Head of Congress (HC) has to some extent already been included in the Mexican Constitution, which names the president of the Chamber of Deputies the president of the congress. Therefore, only a slight change in name would illustrate the change in its new functions. The HC would be selected from the 500 MCs and elected by a two-thirds vote in the chamber, thus garnering the confidence and support of the legislature. The president of the Chamber of Deputies would remain in place and aid the HC with procedural duties of the chamber. The HC's main function would be to act as a liaison between the executive and legislative branches. The HC would be included in cabinet meetings but not have a vote. In situations of a divided government, the HC could find common ground to put forward a shared agenda, or simply champion the congress agenda. In such cases, the government would be more semi-presidential.

Cabinet ratification by the legislature is nothing new. My specific proposal is to introduce the ratification process as a constitutional requirement. Appointments would still be a presidential prerogative, but the cabinet would be ratified by a simple majority vote in the chamber. A recent collaborative study carried out by the Institute for Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Mexican Senate proposed that certain cabinet members (those deemed as being more involved in national and foreign policy) should be ratified by the Senate and others, by the Chamber of Deputies. Although I do not focus on the role of the Senate in this article, I subscribe to this combined process of ratification for cabinet members. Dismissal should still be the prerogative of the executive, but if two thirds of the cabinet opposes the dismissal, the HC would then have the decisive vote.

Finally, line item veto and earmarked or preferential initiative should be introduced. Even though the presidential power of absolute veto tends to reinforce the executive's power (control over the legislative process), an absolute veto tends to reduce the likelihood of its being implemented. Also, an absolute veto dismisses an entire initiative when perhaps most of it might be approved or even desired by the president. With a line item veto, the president would be able to publish pieces of good legislation and remove (veto) the unsustainable parts, without having to restart the complete legislative process. In terms of preferential initiatives, this has been also proposed by the president. Just as the so-called "pocket veto" was recently eliminated from the constitution thus prohibiting the president from keeping an initiative approved by congress from being published, the preferential initiative would allow the president to present a specified number of initiatives per legislature for congress to discuss in a timely manner. This would prevent congress from having gatekeeper powers over relevant initiatives.

Table 5 shows the possible scenarios for the proposed reforms. The most likely outcome is scenario number 3, as a runoff tends to create a coalition government and a coalition may be expected to perform the same way it does in congress. However, if citizens decide to split their votes (as has been happening), scenario number 4 would be more likely. The third column shows that in scenarios 1 and 3, the system would be expected to work like a presidential system —though with a coalition in the former. Meanwhile, scenarios 2 and 4 would be under a more semi-presidential system under the leadership of an HC (or prime-minister in semi-presidential systems), which according to Elgie and Moestrup67 would be the most desirable outcome —at least under a semi-presidentialism system.

In an effort to rectify some discrepancies that may result from the separation of powers, I believe a combination of the three reforms can reinforce both the executive and legislative branches, as well as, and more importantly, foster cooperation among institutions under a different set of institutional arrangements. Depending on the specific circumstances (stemming from electoral results), the system may work as a purely presidential system while in others, it may work like semi-parliamentary system.


IV. Conclusions

Over the past two decades, the Mexican political system has undergone several reforms to adapt the presidential regime to the new conditions of pluralism and citizens' increased demands for accountability. As a result, the system has experienced a significant transformation on establishing more democratic institutions. Granting independence to each of these institutions to ensure an effective separation of powers has clearly been a positive step towards democratization in Mexico, despite its long history of authoritarian regimes. With the new balance of power and institutional setting, the system has succeeded in becoming an electoral democracy, but still does not have adequate institutional engineering.

Since the PRI instituted electoral reforms that were mainly aimed at enhancing the party's power over other institutions and were reactions to the political atmosphere of the time and growing demands from the opposition, the reforms had some unexpected outcomes and thus the path towards democracy has been harmful. Regardless of the debate as to which system is better or more effective, institutional arrangements under presidentialism generally present some dangers that need to be addressed. The Mexican system is no exception, though I believe a measured shift toward a parliamentary system would be less dramatic and therefore preferable.

My proposal attempts to correct certain discrepancies that persist in the institutional engineering of Mexico's presidential system by: (i) introducing a second-round runoff to address issues of legitimacy; (ii) introducing reelections so that MCs become more accountable to their constituencies than being mainly guided by party interests as mere policy-seekers; and (iii) establishing a new institutional setting that would foster cooperation among branches by instituting: a) a "Head of Congress", which would be in charge of the liaison with the executive and occasionally embrace further responsibilities (when the system becomes more semi-presidential); b) the requirement of cabinet ratification by the congress to create a sense of co-responsibility in the executive's performance, and; c) the line item veto and preferential or earmarked initiative leading to a more timely legislative process for structural reforms.

These are not only desirable reforms for better government performance and political stability in Mexico; they are also feasible since they do not require major changes in institutional arrangements. Some proposals have already been proposed and are gaining more and more support in the political sphere and more importantly from the civil society.



* Acronyms and terms: COFIPE, Federal Code of Institutions and Electoral Procedures; IFE, Federal Electoral Institute; MCs, Members of Congress; MSD, Multi Seat District; PAN, National Action Party; PRI, Institutional Revolutionary Party; PRD, Democratic Revolutionary Party; PR, Proportional Representation; PVEM, Green Party; SSD, Single Seat District; TEPJF, Federal Electoral Court (also known as TRIFE).

** Master of Public Administration (MPA) in Public Policy and Management from The London School of Economics and Political Science; former member of Mexican Senate Civil Service and Chief of Staff of Foreign Affairs Committee; currently, Regulation and Institutional Relations Manager at Alestra, Alfa Group.

1 Alfred C. Stepan & Cindy Skach, Constitutional Frameworks and Democratic Consolidation: Parliamentarism versus Presidentialism, 46 (1) World Politics 1, 1-22 (1993).         [ Links ]

2 In the debate of political regimes, there is no clear consensus on which type of system performs the best. However, it seems to be widely accepted that the success of a system in a country or a region depends on many different factors, such as historical background, education, economic stability, inequality, number of parties, and so forth.

3 Stepan and Skach, supra note 1.

4 Proponents of semi-presidentialism have argued that this system is unique and that it is neither a mixed system nor a transition from one pure system to the other. Authors claim this system arises from constitutional engineering. See Pasquino, in Elgie 7-8 (1999).

5 Giovanni Sartori, Comparative Constitutional Engineering, an Inquiry into Structures, Incentives and Outcomes (MacMillan Press Ltd., 2nd ed., 1997).         [ Links ]

6 Juan J. Linz, Presidential or Parliamentary Democracy: Does it make a Difference?, in The Failure of Presidential Democracy 3-87 (Juan Linz and Arturo Valenzuela eds., John Hopkins University Press, 1994).         [ Links ]

7 In some cases (i.e. United States), the president can be selected by an electoral college.

8 Some constitutions grant the congress the power of impeachment, although it is highly unlikely for a president to be convicted.

9 Arend Lijphart, Presidentialism and Majoritarian Democracy: Theoretical Observations, in The Failure of Presidential Democracy, supra note 6, at 91-105.         [ Links ]

10 Linz, supra note 6.

11 Adam Przewoski, Democracy and the Market: Political and Economical Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America (Cambridge University Press)(1991).         [ Links ]

12 Jorge Carpizo, México: ¿sistema presidencial o parlamentario?, 1 Cuestiones Constitucionales. Revista Mexicana de Derecho Constitucional 49-84 (1999).         [ Links ]

13 Jose Cheibub & Fernando Limongi, Democratic Institutions and Regime Survival: Parliamentary and Presidential Democracies Reconsidered, 5 Annual Review Of Political Science 151-179 (2002).         [ Links ]

14 Linz, supra note 6.

15 Either a constituency, a state (under federal systems), or both (under bi-cameral systems).

16 Linz, supra note 6.

17 Id.

18 Id.

19 Ian Lienert and Moo-Kyung Jung, The Legal Framework for Budget Systems, 4 (3) OECD Journal on Budgeting 1, 1-483 (2004).         [ Links ]

20 Carpizo, supra note 12.

21 Sartori, supra note 5.

22 Wolfgang Merkel, Embedded and Defective Democracies, 11 (5) Democratization 33-58 (2004).         [ Links ]

23 Merkel's theory of democracy is based on the argument that the term "electoral democracy" is normative and theoretically inadequate to define whether a country can be classified as democratic or not —as it only takes into account the existence of free and fair elections. He states that for a country to be classified as democratic, it must fulfill at least five main features internally and three features externally. If the country meets all these criteria, it can be classified as an "embedded democracy," whereas if the country fails to comply with even one of them, it should be considered a 'defective democracy', divided into four types of such democracies eg. exclusive, domain, illiberal and deelegative democracies.Merkels' definition of a "delegative democracy" is a system characterized by a weak legislature and judiciary, in which these two branches only have limited control over the executive branch and the president can circumvent the parliament and influence the judiciary.

24 Stephen H. Haber et al., Mexico Since 1980 (Cambridge University Press, 2008).         [ Links ]

25 The Maximato is the period between 1928 and 1934. This period was characterized by a very strong leadership in the figure of Calles, who was called "El jefe máximo de la Revolución"" (the supreme leader of the revolution).

26 Haber, supra note 24.

27 Lorenzo Meyer, El presidencialismo: del populismo al neoliberalismo, 55 (2) Revista Mexicana de Sociología 57, 57-81 (1993).         [ Links ]

28 My translation of Meyer, supra note 27.

29 The PNR became the PRM in 1938 and finally the PRI in 1946.

30 Source: INEGI [National Institute of Statistics and Geography], Banco de Información Económica [Economics Information Bank].

31 Meyer, supra note 27.

32 Manuel Pastor, Latin America, the Debt Crisis, and the International Monetary Fund, 16 (1) Latin American Perspective 79-110 (1989).         [ Links ]

33 José Woldenberg, Estados y partidos: una periodizacion, 55 (2) Revista Mexicana de Sociología 83-95 (1993).         [ Links ]

34 Juan Molinar Horcacitas & Jeffrey Weldon, Reforming Electoral Systems in Mexico in Mixed-Member Electoral Systems - The Best Of Both Worlds? 209-230 (Matthew S. Shugart & Martin P. Wattenberg eds., Oxford University Press, 2003).         [ Links ]

35 Id.

36 Id.

37 Código Federal de Insituciones y Procedimientos Electorales [C.O.F.I.P.E.] [Federal Code for Electoral Institutions and Procedures], Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.] 1996 (Mex.).

38 Composition of the chamber was enlarged from 400 to 500 (100 more MSDs) in a reform carried out in 1986.

39 Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación [T.E.PJ.F] [Federal Electoral Court].

40 These 20 years span from 1994 to 2012 since the elections to replace the members of Congress who were elected in 2009 will be held in 2012.

41 Although I agree with Merkel's sound and solid new theory on the analysis of democracy, the merits of the somewhat contentious and imperfect the term "electoral democracy" is beyond the scope of this paper.

42 ESPIRAL: Interview with Giovanni Sartori (Oct. 11, 2009).

43 Ulises Carrillo & Alonso Lujambio, La incertidumbre constitucional. Gobierno dividido y aprobación presupuestal en la LVII Legislatura del Congreso mexicano, 1997-2000, 60 (2) Revista Mexicana de Sociología 239-263 (1998).         [ Links ]

44 Id.

45 Some exceptions are the Revenues Law and the Budget decree in which the lower chamber has the prerogative of initiating the process and the upper chamber (Senate) is responsible for its review.

46 One exception is the ratification of international treaties, which only need to be approved by the Senate.

47 Steven Barracca, Is Mexican Democracy Consolidated?, 25 (8) Third World Quarterly 1469-1485 (2004).         [ Links ]

48 Scot Mainwaring et al., Presidentialism and Democracy: A Critical Appraisal, 29 (4) Comparative Politics 449-471 (1997).         [ Links ]

49 José A. Cheibub, Minority Governments, Deadlock Situations, and the Survival of Presidential Democracies, 53 (3) Comparative Political Studies 284-312 (2002).         [ Links ]

50 I make special mention of the PVEM because it is a party that has consistently met the 2% threshold and by a significant margin (7-8%). Moreover, since 2000, it has established electoral coalitions with both major parties, the PAN and the PRI.

51 Lijphart, supra note 9.

52 Carrillo et al., supra note 43.

53 Jeffrey A. Weldon, The Consequences of Mexico's Mixed-Member Electoral System, 1988-1997, in Mixed-Member Electoral Systems - The Best of Both Worlds?, supra note 34, at 447-476.         [ Links ]

54 Giovanni Sartori, Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis (Cambridge University Press, 1976).         [ Links ]

55 Cheibub, supra note 49.

56 Id.

57 Alberto Díaz-Cayeros & Beatriz Magaloni, Mexico: Designing Electoral Rules by a Dominant Party, in Handbook of Electoral System Choice 145-154 (Joseph Colomer ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).         [ Links ]

58 In 2006, the runner-up candidate from the PRD refused to recognize the results of the elections and challenged presidential authority, electoral institutions and the electoral body (IFE) itself. He began a show of "peaceful" resistance which lasted for almost a year.

59 Joseph Colomer, The Strategy and History in Electoral System Choice, in Handbook of Electoral System Choice, supra note 57, at 3-80.         [ Links ]

60 Kenneth A. Shepsle & Mark S. Bonchek, Analyzing Politics. Rationality, Behavior and Institutions (W.W. Norton and Company, INC) (1997).         [ Links ]

61 Alonso Lujambio, Federalismo y Congreso en el Cambio Político de México (Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) (1996).         [ Links ]

62 Linz, supra note 6.

63 Sartori, supra note 5.

64 Id.

65 Id.

66 By the time this article was written, the Mexican congress began discussions regarding political reform that touches upon certain aspects addressed in this article, such as the reelection, line item veto, earmarked initiative and ratification of cabinet by congress, among others. Before the publication of the article, congress enacted a constitutional reform (November 2011) introducing some of these features while leaving others for further analysis and deliberation.

67 Robert Elgie & Sophia Moestrup, The Choice of Semi-Presidentialism and its Consecuences, in Semi-Presidentialism Outside Europe. A Comparative Study 237-248 (Robert Elgie & Sophia Moestrup eds., Routledge) (2007).         [ Links ]

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The Development of the Media and the Public Sphere in Mexico


Felipe Carlos Betancourt Higareda*


Recibido: 5 de septiembre de 2011.
Aceptado para su publicación: 21 de octubre de 2011.



This article reviews the development of the Mexican media, both broadcast and print, through an analysis of their current legalframework, culture, ownership structure and common practices. It is based on archival research, interviews and a review of the available literature. Its analyticalframework is based on concepts of the theory of deliberative democracy developed by contemporary philosophers such as Jürgen Habermas, James Bohman, Jane Mans-bridge and Joshua Cohen. Within thisframework, it argues that the major obstacles to democracy in Mexico, which include social and economic inequalities, patronage and a weak rule of law, also constitute obstacles to the deliberative development of the Mexican media.

Key Words: Mexican media, deliberative democracy, public sphere, democracy in Mexico.



El presente artículo es un estudio del desarrollo deliberativo de los medios de comunicación mexicanos, tanto electrónicos como impresos, a través del análisis de su marco jurídico vigente, cultura profesional y su estructura de propiedad. Esta investigación se basa en la recopilación y análisis de archivos, la realización de entrevistas y la revisión del estado de la cuestión sobre el objeto de estudio. Su marco analítico se basa en conceptos específicos de la teoría de la democracia deliberativa desarrollada por los filósofos políticos Jürgen Habermas, James Bohman, Jane Mansbridge y Joshua Cohen. Dentro de este marco, su argumento es que los obstáculos mayores para la democracia en México, que incluyen las desigualdades sociales y económicas, la cultura clientelar y la debilidad del estado de derecho, constituyen también obstáculos para el desarrollo deliberativo de los medios de comunicación mexicanos.

Palabras clave: Medios de comunicación mexicanos, democracia deliberativa, esfera pública, democracia en México.



I. Introduction

II. Importance of the Media in Developing a Deliberative Culture in the Public Sphere

III. Debate in the Public Sphere and the Media in Mexico

IV. Constitutional and Legal Framework

V. Journalistic Culture and the Emergence of a Deliberative Public Sphere in Mexico

VI. Development of the Broadcast Media

VII. Conclusions


I. Introduction

This article evaluates the actual and potential contribution of the Mexican media to the development of a public sphere based on core concepts and definitions of deliberation provided by Habermas, Bohman, Mansbridge and Cohen. It explores the extent to which the three elements of the "ideal deliberative procedure" (ideal speech situation, discourse ethics and fair preference aggregation) are fulfilled in the Mexican public sphere and assesses the quality of "civic dialogue." The element of "fair preference aggregation" will be considered indirectly, according to the degree in which the Mexican media order the electoral institutional system toward this fairness. The article ends by judging the extent to which structural deficiencies in Mexico have deterred the deliberative development of its media by encouraging a culture of patronage, allowing the persistence of bias in favor of politically and economically powerful interests, and hindering the rule of law.

Ideally, the media should encourage diversity, access for civil society, a more public service approach to content, civic journalism, a balanced coverage of the perspectives of civil society and the promotion of reasoned debates within and between civil society and public authorities. This would encourage civic dialogue, support the elements of the "ideal deliberative procedure" (the ideal speech situation and discourse ethics) in the Mexican public sphere and contribute indirectly to fair preference aggregation in the Mexican electoral system. Through a review of literature, the analysis of the legal framework, a case study of the debate on the reform to this framework, interviews and archival research, this article examines the current structure and culture of the Mexican media and evaluates to what extent it contributes to developing a deliberative public sphere in Mexico.

According to the contributions of Habermas, Bohman, Mansbridge and Cohen to the theory of deliberative democracy, the deliberative quality of decision and opinion-making processes depends on fulfilling the counterfactual assumptions of communication (the "ideal speech situation"), implementing "discourse ethics," and fairly gathering preferences in case rational consensus is impossible to achieve in these processes. Cohen1 and Habermas2 have established that the "ideal deliberative procedure" should be bound only by "assumptions of communication" (the "ideal speech situation") and rules of argumentation ("discourse ethics"), and that the outcome should be "free and reasoned agreement among equals."

An "ideal speech situation" as defined by Bohman is an "ideal situation of communicative equality among deliberators" in which all speakers enjoy equal opportunity to speak, to initiate any type of utterance or interaction, and to adopt any role in the communication or dialogue.3 This implies that the exchange of arguments (deliberative communication among speakers) should be free, equal, plural and inclusive and that in principle, any deliberation can be considered procedurally democratic, fair and legitimate if it fulfills these "counterfactual assumptions" or "principles" in the deliberative communication among speakers.

However, fulfilling the conditions for an "ideal speech situation" is not enough to achieve an "ideal deliberative procedure." We also need to conform to "discourse ethics" in the exchange of arguments among deliberators. These are defined by Habermas as "communicative conditions of argumentation that make impartial judgment possible."4 This means that deliberators should (a) justify proposals and positions by means of arguments, (b) duly respect the different arguments given in the deliberation, (c) be open to the participation of other deliberators, (d) authentically mean what they say in the deliberation (be truthful), (e) frame arguments in terms of the common good, and (f) aim to eventually achieve rational consensus, even if they end their deliberations through majority rule.5 Turning to the realm of representative democracy, Mansbridge describes "civic dialogue" as the "pre-deliberative act of sharing information about perspectives," and defines the "fair preference aggregation" as a "regulative criterion that prescribes equal power for each participant in decision-making processes."6


II. Importance of the Media in Developing a Deliberative Culture in the Public Sphere

The media is perhaps the most important space in which communicative interaction among citizens can take place, and where citizens can influence each other to develop reasoned opinions on public affairs. As Daniel C. Hallin argues, if we find a tradition of advocacy reporting, the instrumentalization of privately owned media or the politicization of public broadcasting in a given political community, the transition to democracy in this community becomes difficult to achieve.7 The democratic nature of a political community depends on the way opinions about public affairs are shaped and formed in the public sphere. So in order to assess the deliberative quality of the Mexican public sphere, it is important to consider the fairness of the processes by which Mexican citizens arrive at an opinion on public issues and through which those opinions are taken into account in decision-making processes. The first aspect is related to fulfilling the "ideal speech situation" (communicative equality) and exercising "discourse ethics" in the public sphere, while the second is related to the rule of law to achieve fair preference aggregation through the Mexican electoral system.

In this regard, important aspects of the democratic transition in Mexico are restrictions on freedom of speech in the Mexican media, the prevailing culture, the kind of partisan journalism that has been practiced, and the limited degree of citizens' access to public information and opportunities to have their voices heard.

If democracy is conceived as a forum rather than a market, the analysis of the public sphere becomes indispensable to understand the deliberative content and potential of a particular political regime, because it is precisely there, in the public sphere, where citizens form their public opinion and can fully exercise their freedom and equality to influence the outcome of the decision-making processes carried out in representative political institutions. At the same time, fair preference aggregation in voting is meaningless if citizens are unable to exercise civil liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of association, and thereby form independent opinions which inform their vote. The democratic quality of the renewal of positions in formal political institutions resides not only in the transparency of the electoral process (the fair preference aggregation), but also in the real exercise of the procedural and substantive values of deliberative democracy (fulfilling the ideal speech situation and exercising discourse ethics) in the public sphere. If the process through which opinions on public issues are formed is manipulated, exclusive, biased and lacking in transparency, a political system will be imbued with an undemocratic character since the actions of a small number of people will unduly influence citizens' attitude toward specific policies or laws.

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