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Independents Gain in Mexico Ruling

High court allows those who don't belong to registered political parties to run for office.

October 04, 2006|Sam Enriquez | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican Supreme Court decided Tuesday to allow independent candidates to run for office, overturning a 60-year-old interpretation of the constitution that required candidates to belong to registered political parties.

The 6-5 vote sided with the Yucatan state legislature, which in May voted to allow independents to run for state and local offices. The law was challenged before the high court by the Alliance for Yucatan, a state political party.

"Political parties can't limit the rights of individuals," said Justice Jose Ramon Cossio Diaz, who voted with the majority. "Therefore, independent candidacies have to be constitutional."

His colleague, Justice Juan Diaz Romero, disagreed, saying the proliferation of independent candidates "would introduce anarchy to the electoral system."

It may be years before the ruling has a significant effect on Mexican politics. It applies only to the southern Gulf Coast state of Yucatan and the Pacific state of Sonora, which has passed a similar law. Other states are now free to pass their own laws implementing the change.

Congress would have to approve the change for national elections, an unlikely prospect given that Mexican politics revolve around the party system. Although more than a third of voters tell pollsters they have no party affiliation, only the largest parties have the money and organization to win campaigns.

"The significance of the Supreme Court decision is more political than legal," said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a Mexico expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "If you look at the decisions of the Congress, they're about making decisions to strengthen their political parties, individually and collectively."

Mexico until a decade ago was ruled by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. The PRI's grip on power was loosened in the 1997 congressional elections, and it lost the presidency in 2000 to Vicente Fox and his National Action Party, or PAN. The Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, won the second-largest congressional bloc behind the PAN in the July 2 national election.

President-elect Felipe Calderon, a member of the PAN, takes office Dec. 1. He narrowly defeated Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, of the PRD.

The issue of independent candidacy was raised last year by columnist and former Cabinet member Jorge Castaneda, who sought legal approval to run for president.

The Supreme Court ruled against hearing Castaneda's challenge of the longtime restriction last year on the grounds that an individual citizen cannot file such a constitutional appeal; only a government agency may do so.

Castaneda, who had served as foreign minister under Fox, took his case to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The commission ruled last October that barring independent candidates was a human-rights violation.

A week later, the country's Federal Electoral Institute decided that it would not comply with the commission's ruling, and the Fox administration said Castaneda couldn't run for president.

Castaneda said Tuesday that he felt a measure of vindication, adding that his fight "led to a huge step forward for Mexico."



Carlos Martinez and Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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