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Mexico in a New Political Era

Separation of powers will necessitate historic changes

September 03, 1997

The separation of powers between executive and legislative branches defines democratic government, and Monday it came to Mexico in a new and uncharted era. The president delivered his State of the Union speech to a Congress in which no party holds a majority. And for the first time ever, a member of the opposition rose in response.

The rules of the political game began to change in July's election when opposition parties sent more members to the Chamber of Deputies than did the long-ruling PRI, the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution, which held sole power for almost 70 years.

Showing a hitherto unseen ability to coalesce for mutual gains, the opposition parties organized the legislature as a flat-footed PRI looked on from the outside.

Now, the two camps together will have to develop the new rules. The old regulations gave the opposition no say; with congressional politics turned on its head, new laws will be needed. For their own good, Mexican lawmakers must move quickly, for the alternative is a legal quagmire.

Consider, for example, the coming debate on the national budget, which President Ernesto Zedillo must present to Congress in the second week of November. Without political accommodation by all parties, Mexico could find itself shutting down the houses of government altogether, a situation for which no precedent and no provisions exist.

The path to the future is filled with uncertainty, but there is cause for optimism nonetheless. Mexico has crossed the political bridge. Ahead await even more hurdles, and irrational actions and mistakes can be expected of all parties, but this road, finally, is the one worth taking.

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