By Jorge G. Castañeda, Mexico’s foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, is a professor of Latin American studies and international affairs at New York University (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 06/09/2006):
AT last, Mexico has a president-elect. The process has been painful, protracted and rife with problems for the future. Still, the Electoral Court declared yesterday that Felipe Calderón will be the country’s new chief of state on Dec. 1.
His defeated rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has nonetheless rejected the Electoral Court’s ruling, refused to recognize Mr. Calderón as the winner and, for all intents and purposes, decided to make life as miserable as he can for Mr. Calderón, overthrowing him if possible, thwarting him in every attempt to govern if not.
Mr. López Obrador was never able to substantiate his claim that the election was stolen from him. He could not prove that the deck was stacked against him during the campaign, nor was he able to persuade anyone beyond his admittedly large circle of followers that there should have been a recount and a new election. The court that ruled against him is made up of seven judges elected with votes from his own party. And yet, Mr. López Obrador maintains the support of roughly one-third of Mexico’s people, many of whom feel, wrongly but surely, that they were deprived of a victory they deserved.
The main questions facing Mexico now are how Felipe Calderón will govern with a mandate of barely 36 percent, and how, indeed whether, he will acknowledge the pent-up social demands of the millions of Mexicans who voted for Mr. López Obrador.
Here are some suggestions. They are ambitious and risky, but they offer a way out of the current impasse.
Clearly something is wrong with Mexico’s electoral, judicial and political institutions. It took two full months to figure out who won the presidential election, and the loser still hasn’t accepted his defeat. Moreover, all major decisions have been postponed for a decade because of the unrelenting gridlock between the executive and legislative branches and the absence of any majority in Congress.
Mr. Calderón could start with an idea that is already floating around. He could propose allowing for the re-election of members of Congress, mayors and the president himself. Under the current system, senators, governors and the president serve single six-year terms, while congressmen and mayors are elected for single three-year terms. Re-election, and the accountability it imperfectly provides, does not exist. Reforming this system to allow for two four-year presidential terms and re-election of other officials would be intrinsically meritorious, but it would also provide Mr. López Obrador’s followers with an incentive to play by the rules: their hero could have another shot in just four years’ time, and if he wins and governs successfully, he could remain a full eight years in office.
Mr. López Obrador’s supporters will surely protest that with the same electoral rules in place, their man will be short-changed again. Mr. Calderón can forestall that objection by pushing for rewriting the rules by which elections are organized and votes counted. And Mr. López Obrador’s aides could be given, as any party with a third of the vote deserves, a major, even decisive, role in overhauling an electoral system that has outlived its usefulness. He could, up to a point, write his own ticket for 2010.
Finally, and perhaps most substantively, Mr. Calderón could follow Bill Clinton and Tony Blair’s model, but reverse it. Instead of triangulating from right to left, Mexico’s new president should take some of the left-ish planks from his rival’s platform, refashion them in a way that makes them acceptable to his own followers, and turn them into policy. The most obvious example would be the creation of a well-financed, means-tested and efficiently administered program to provide universal health care and pensions to the elderly who lack entitlements. Several other proposals lend themselves to this type of triangulation in areas like education and poverty eradication.
If Mr. Calderón initiated such a three-part plan, would Mr. López Obrador renounce his protests and wait for a better day? Probably not, but there is no way of knowing without discussing these ideas with him and making clear the consequences of his current stance.
Here is where the international community comes in. Mr. López Obrador has explicitly asked Mexico’s friends abroad for help. A group of elder statesmen from Europe, Latin America and the United States (for example, Ricardo Lagos of Chile, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Felipe González of Spain and Mr. Clinton or Jimmy Carter) should try to persuade both Mr. López Obrador and Mr. Calderón to accept such a solution to Mexico’s conundrum. No one in Mexico can make the case as strongly. The worst that could happen is that such a mission might fail. But maybe, just maybe, it might work.