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Mexico's Calderon presents political reform proposal

The sweeping changes would allow federal lawmakers to be reelected and provide for presidential runoff elections if no candidate wins more than half the votes.

December 16, 2009|By Ken Ellingwood
  • "Citizens are not satisfied with their political representation," President Felipe Calderon said.
"Citizens are not satisfied with their political representation,"… (Ariel Gutierrez, Associated…)

Reporting from Mexico City — Mexican President Felipe Calderon proposed sweeping political reforms Tuesday that would allow federal lawmakers and some other officials to be reelected and provide for runoff elections for president if no candidate gained more than half the votes.

Calderon said the reforms would make Mexican officials more accountable to voters, who tend to view politicians across a deep chasm of cynicism and mistrust.

Some of the proposed changes, such as making room on the ballot for independent candidates, have been promoted by activists as a way to let fresh air into Mexico's musty political system and improve citizen participation as the country tries to develop a real democracy.

"Citizens are not satisfied with their political representation -- we have to acknowledge it -- and they sense a big distance between their needs and the performance of their leaders, representatives and politicians," Calderon said in a televised speech announcing the package.

Calderon's proposals pleased good-government advocates but probably face an uphill battle in Congress, where leaders might resist his idea to trim the number of seats. Political parties, the movers of Mexican politics, could view changes as threats to their considerable clout.

"It is an admirable act of good government by President Calderon, but it offends too many vested interests," said George W. Grayson of the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

But Mexico City political analyst Alfonso Zarate said some of the ideas had been discussed for a long time, and they may be ripe for action.

"It's a proposal with a lot of democratic content and many years in coming," Zarate said.

Congressional leaders said they would begin debate on the measures in February.

Calderon proposed allowing mayors, city council members and federal lawmakers to be elected for multiple terms, up to 12 years. "The one who governs well stays in office, and the one who governs poorly or in a mediocre way goes," he said.

His proposal did not include president or state governors, who are now limited to a single six-year term. But allowing reelection for other offices would still mark a big change in Mexico's political habits.

"No reelection," part of a Mexican Revolution-era slogan, has been an unchallenged tenet of politics since the long-ruling dictator, Porfirio Diaz, was ousted a century ago. Later, in 1933, Congress added a provision to the Mexican Constitution barring officeholders from consecutive terms.

Runoffs would also mark a major departure. Calderon said providing for a second round of voting would ensure that winners get a majority and have a clear mandate to govern.

He has learned the hard way about ruling with a wobbly mandate. Calderon narrowly defeated leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in 2006, with just 36%. The disputed outcome and a divided Congress have made it more complicated for Calderon to push other reforms and carry out his government's controversial war against drug cartels.

Winning a majority was academic in Mexico for much of the last century, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, ruled from top to bottom. The PRI seldom had real competition and often employed fraud when it did. The party lost its hold in 2000, when Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, won.

The reform package also calls for allowing ordinary Mexicans to submit bills and for shrinking Congress. The lower Chamber of Deputies would be cut to 400 seats from 500 and the Senate to 96 seats from 128.

Many Mexicans grouse that the current system of distributing a portion of seats to parties in proportion to their overall ballot results means that many deputies are chosen by party leaders, not voters. Calderon's proposals would reduce the number of those seats.

Calderon's PAN holds the most seats in the Senate but lacks a majority. The PRI controls the lower chamber.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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