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Mexico’s Electoral Reforms Begin to Take Shape

Of all the 95 reform agreements coming out of the Pacto por México, perhaps the most transcendent will be those that change the way Mexico handles its elections.   The other reforms—fiscal, labor, judicial, energy, and education—are important and will certainly have profound effects on the country’s growth and development.  But the electoral reform package will affect how Mexico is governed in ways that break a basic political tradition—the ban on re-election for the occupants of many of the country’s most important offices.  That Mexico’s three main parties were able to agree on these reforms is a major accomplishment, and that President Enrique Peña Nieto was able to negotiate a complex series of votes to move them through the Congress is a testament to an unprecedented spirit of compromise.  

That said, it is important to note that these reforms, many of them requiring constitutional changes, may also require implementing laws to take effect.  This is the case for the electoral reforms approved by lawmakers in December and signed by President Peña Nieto on January 31, 2014.  So far, what is approved will permit re-election of senators and federal deputies (representatives) allowing them to stay in office for 12 years.  That means senators, who have a six-year term, may be re-elected once.  Deputies, who have three-year terms, may be re-elected three times.  The changes start for deputies in 2015 and for senators in 2018.  At the municipal level, mayors may be re-elected once to another three-year term.  The president, governors, and the mayor of the capital, Mexico City, will still be limited to one term. 

The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), established in 1990, is now the National Electoral Institute (INE).  The number of counselors that sit at the top of the body has increased from nine to 11—in fact the Chamber of Deputies named the new council members on April 3. The new INE will oversee federal elections as before, but will coordinate with state institutes on local elections. The state electoral institutes will continue to exist, but have less autonomy as the INE counselors will name the counselors leading the state institutes.   These changes are still being phased in. 

For parties to maintain their registry at the national level, they will need to have obtained 3 percent of the votes in the last national election, instead of 2 percent as before.  Also, parties will be required to nominate an equal number of male and female candidates for legislative races.  Last year, Peña Nieto presented this as a change to the Federal Code of Institutions and Electoral Procedures (COFIPE) to be approved in a package of secondary implementation laws.

Mexico’s traditional skepticism of the value of incumbency has not totally disappeared.  While re-election is now permitted for some offices in Mexico, these are still term limited.  So a seat in Congress is not a sinecure.  Yet under the current reforms, there is an expectation that re-election will increase the level of experience in Congress as well as encourage mayors and lawmakers to be more accountable to voters knowing that for them to continue in the job they must do what voters want. 

Posted by

Francisco Lage

Program Officer, Mexico