Mexican opposition decries election reform

The Mexican Congress recently passed what President Miguel de la Madrid Hurtado has called sweeping electoral reform. But those who have been the most vocal in demanding reform say the changes will only guarantee the dominance of the President's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

Opposition party deputies in the Mexican Congress agree that even though the President's proposals have been enacted, that will not eliminate the demand for a more fundamental change in the electoral process.

The Nov. 28 reforms include: enlarging the chamber of deputies from 400 to 500, including at least 150 seats for opposition parties; electing half the Senate every three years instead of the entire body every six years; giving the Federal District of Mexico City an elected assembly of 80 deputies; and using transparent ballot boxes. The reforms also include a clause saying that the majority party at no time will lose its power even if it receives less than 51 percent of the vote.

A reform to be debated this week, and one likely to pass, is the establishment of a Federal Election Commission - headed by the secretary of the interior, two presidential appointees from the Congress, and a representative from only the three largest parties - to judge the fairness of elections.

Since 1929, the majority party has been the PRI which has won every election for president, governor, and senator. There has been increasing pressure for reform since PRI was accused of widespread fraud in the state elections of Sonora and Nuevo Leon in 1985 and in Chihuahua this summer.

Mr. de la Madrid referred to the protests over these elections, in which all the governorships and major city mayoral races were won by his party, in explaining the reforms. ``It is natural for irregularities or imperfections to be produced in the electoral system, but we have mechanisms and we want to perfect them, so that these minor imperfections can be corrected....''

Although several opposition parties from different ends of the political spectrum joined to denounce the changes as ``insufficient,'' they were outvoted by the PRI-dominated House of Deputies and the Senate.

Ricardo Garc'ia Cervantes, of the main opposition National Action Party (PAN), denounced the package saying the government lacked credibility when it came to elections. ``When fraud is charged by opposition parties after almost every election, why should we believe this reform policy will bring us any closer to justice?''

Ant'onio Monsivais Ram'irez of the Mexican Democratic Party said the reforms' real intent was to make it easier for de la Madrid to handpick his successor and Congress members, thus ensuring PRI's power.

One aspect of the reforms that particularly displeases most of the opposition is the protection afforded the majority party even when it fails to receive 51 percent of the vote.

Opposition leaders pointed out that the new makeup of the electoral commission would give fewer parties a vote over election disputes. As a result, fewer election results could be challenged since it was only the combined vote of several of the small parties that had forced the scrutiny of contested elections recently. They added that an elected assembly would not give Mexico City democracy as long as the President still chooses the mayor.

The opposition parties countered de la Madrid's proposals with their own. They asked Congress to approve an opening of the Senate to opposition parties (the Senate has only PRI senators), to have all deputies elected by proportional voting, and for the Federal Election Commission to be autonomous of the government and comprised of persons with juridical experience. As a concession, Congress agreed to look into their proposals concerning the commission but has ignored the rest.

Even a move within PRI to reform its selection of candidates was recently stopped when the party's executive committee called in several prominent members who had been publicly calling for greater openness and scrutiny in candidate selection. They were told to stop their campaign or resign from the party. They agreed to drop their proposals.

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