Mexico has a unique and fascinating political life and a thriving democracy amid constant fears of powerful drug cartels and corrupt politics. It is a country with a rugged history, a rich culture, and an independent spirit separating it from other Central American and North American countries. Its relations with the United States, its biggest neighbor, have been difficult to say the least, ranging from war to friendship, depending on the time and the issue. The domestic political issues within Mexico have shaped the country more than any other aspect of Mexico's past since independence from Spain. Yet, the country has much to share with the world, and is still a productive trading partner around the world despite a struggling economy and a dangerous environment. Politically, Mexico has been in trouble for a century, but at least national politics has been cleaned up in the last twenty years, and a big election on July 1, 2012 will choose the fate of Mexico for the next six years. This paper will study a short history of Mexican politics, a sampling of the President's and Congress' terms and election cycles, as well as civic and justice issues facing Mexico today.
The history of Mexican democracy has not been clean, and the isolationist policies of the country have kept it out of most of the major struggles of the 20th century, including World War I, World War II, and the entire Cold War. (Mexican History Timeline, 1) The political dimensions of Mexico have been full of nepotism and almost feudal links between families within political parties. Mexican presidents, being able to only serve one term, were still able to hand pick their successor for nearly 70 years, as PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, dominated the country for the majority of the 20th century.
The Mexican Presidential system is rather unique in that each elected President serves a single six-year term, with no option for incumbency. By having a presidential system instead of a parliamentary, Mexico is looking to the United States for inspiration. Due to the enormous size of Mexico, and thus the need for federated territories, a presidential system allows for more stability as the powers in Mexico City are balanced against each other. The presidential system being one term changes the priorities and timelines of the president, making him a much stronger figure than in the United States. In the United States, a President must defend his presidency midway through his potential 8-year term, and the people have the option to limit an unfavorable President's term to just 4 years. In Mexico, on the other hand, a President is chosen for a longer term than in the U.S., and without any need to face the public again for the rest of his political career for a reelection. This changes the nature of party politics, requiring a president to side with a party only when running for president, once he is chosen he has much less accountability to the party.
The Mexican presidency finally broke its 70-year streak of one-party rule when the people of Mexico elected Vicente Fox to be president from 2000-2006. (Mexico, A Brief History, 1) This change allowed the entire country to breathe a sigh of relief, as it then new it was entering a new century with a turnover of power and the potential for a more prosperous century. This happened partially during Mr. Fox's term, but at the end a new threat had overtaken Mexico, the deadly drug cartel. Nobody could have predicted how dangerous the situation would become, and the next Mexican president was elected partially because of his tough talk on curbing violence, that is current president Felipe Calderon. Since his inauguration in 2006, a vigilant war has been fought between Mexican Special Forces and members of the various Mexican cartels. This issue has dominated the country for the past six years, and the economy, once strong during Fox's presidency, had slowed due to the global recession of 2008. The next Mexican president will have to face the challenge of continuing the war against the drug cartels, as well as further opening up the country to democratic and trade reforms which will further push Mexico onto the world stage as globalization becomes more important in the 21st century. This ties into the other half of Mexican federal politics, the Mexican Congress.
The Mexican Congress is bicameral, similar to the U.S., with a 500 member Chamber of Deputies, and a 125 member Chamber of Senators. Deputies serve three-year terms, and Senators serve six-year terms. There are three main parties in Mexican politics, a leftist, center, and a far right, which is a relatively recent phenomenon after such a long period of single party rule in Mexico. The Mexican Congress has similar responsibilities to the U.S. congress, primarily in regards to collecting taxes and paying for the executive branches ability to execute law. The Chamber of Senators, the more powerful of the two chambers, works almost exactly like the U.S. Senate, and senators are selected based on regional elections, ensuring a diverse group of individuals. The three party system has been accepted as the norm in Mexico, which is quite different than the United States which has just two parties. This is partially due to the past problems with corruption, especially in Mexico's long ruling PRI party that ruled Mexican politics for more than 70 years in the 20th century.
The 2012 elections are four months away, and are shaping up to be another earthshattering election for Mexico. Each party has chosen its candidate, and campaigns around the nation have continued nonstop for months. The favorite, a member of the old Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has chosen Enrique Pena Nieto, a young voice to reenergize the party and the country. (RealClearPolitics, 1) The opposition is Andres Manuel Lopez of the leftist Party of Democratic Revolution, and Josefina Vazquez of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. Ms. Vazquez is the first female candidate put forward by any major political party in Mexico, and has a very good chance at winning. (Fox News, 1) Mr. Lopez has been marginalized at this point, and is least favored to win the election in July. The race is still wide open, however, and the next six years of Mexico can change dramatically depending on who wins the election.
The Mexican justice system is not as well protected as the U.S. system, with corruption rampant and criminals being released on short notice for no apparent reason. Recently the drug cartels have been able to buy off judges, but historically any well-connected Mexican family could easily exert favors on the legal system to always get their way, while the average Mexican who was forced into court was usually convicted without a fair trial. (Luhnow, 1) Mexico is particularly harsh on those convicted of drug crimes, as the federal government has raised the stakes in its crusade on drugs. Judges have broad powers in Mexico, and are rarely dismissed by state governors because the governors and the judges are still sticking to the machismo practice of party politics and nepotism that dominates Mexican culture. A call for greater human rights and a more accountable judiciary has only slightly affected the system, but money is still the most important tool for getting one's way in Mexico.
Political forces control Mexican media much more so than in the United States, at least historically speaking. Only a few media moguls, who profited and controlled the political messages of the people for decades, especially during PRI rule, have dominated Media and television for all the decades of media in Mexican politics and social life. Things have changed in the past two decades, however, and media is far more representative of the average concerns of Mexicans than in the past. The violence in Mexico has upended journalism in the country, changing once peaceful sunny forecasts into bloody battles in the streets of Mexico. Problems with the Catholic Church have also been reported far more frequently than in the past, with the Church getting a free pass for being such a strong institution in Mexican life as it is. Citizens are now able to use the internet to report problems and to share stories, which has emboldened a population that has been very quiet in its opposition to policies that have favored Mexico City over all other rural communities. (Hernandez, 1)
Corruption has mostly been removed from national politics, but still exists in daily life in Mexico, particularly when dealing with the police. Mexico does not have as strong of protections for human rights as exist in the United States, and citizens are more subject to the large federal government. (Hall, 1) The police have been known to take bribes and to hassle Mexicans for a long time, but the problem has grown more problematic as the police force has been shaken by violence so often in the past several years. One of the significant problems…