Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Will Next Sunday’s Election in Mexico Be Free and Fair?

File Photo: López Obrador File Photo: López Obrador

Mexicans go to the polls on Sunday for the country’s presidential, legislative and local elections. Corruption has been among the most prominent issues in the campaign, as the country’s federal electoral tribunal recently found financial irregularities in Jaime Rodríguez’s candidacy and at least 14 former and current governors are under investigation for corruption charges. Moreover, 36 candidates have been killed since September, marking the most violent election season in the country’s recent history, The Washington Post reported. While Mexico places last among OECD countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, it has implemented the National Anti-Corruption System since 2016 in an attempt to reduce corruption. Has the anti-corruption system been successful? How are the Mexican authorities prepared to fight corruption, and what role can journalists and civil society organizations play? Will Mexico’s elections be considered free and fair?

Erich de la Fuente, partner and CEO for the U.S. operations of Llorente & Cuenca: “Sunday will be a historic day in Mexico; 89 million citizens will be called to vote in an election that will decide the next Mexican president, 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies, 128 members of the Senate and eight governors. Those newly elected or re-elected will likely take part in pushing forward an agenda of political reform, including an economic transformation that will lead negotiations with the United States on NAFTA. According to a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, corruption is the second-biggest concern for Mexicans, preceded only by crime. These issues have set the tone of the electoral campaign debate, and Mexico’s new president will need to play a central role in addressing this issue in the country’s institutions. Andres Manuel López Obrador, the presidential candidate whose campaign message addresses citizens’ anti-corruption and anti-establishment sentiment, is leading the polls and is likely to win the presidential election. His support comes from his base but also in large part from disaffected voters who have lost trust in the establishment. Many consider López Obrador’s strongest opponent, Ricardo Anaya, to be a member of the current political establishment. His support stems more from voters’ uncertainty or fear of where López Obrador’s policies might lead the country rather than his own political voting bloc. Without a runoff vote, it is very likely that the winner will emerge without a clear political mandate. In this polarized context, a narrow victory from either candidate will test the country’s institutions, and political uncertainty will likely continue. To that end, journalists and civil society organizations will play a fundamental role guiding public opinion and people’s expectations.”

Nicolás Mariscal, member of the Advisor board and chairman of Grupo Marhnos in Mexico City: “Democracy in Mexico has been built and strengthened through the creation of electoral laws that have been updated throughout the years and that have helped in the creation of procedures and norms and the consolidation of electoral institutions. I am certain that Mexico will have elections that are free and fair. With respect to the National Anti-corruption System, training and generating institutional capacities to detect and sanction corruption is still ongoing. I trust that we will begin to reap the benefits in coming years. One of the most important steps that Mexico is taking is the implementation of the Anti-corruption Open Guide, which publishes different strategic databases and improves transparency and documentation. This has been possible thanks to the collaboration of the International Open Data Charter, the Inter-American Development Bank and the participation of civil society organizations such as Transparencia Mexicana and Cívica Digital. I also want to highlight the great work of the media in the process of strengthening democracy. The systemic work of reporters and investigators has been crucial to denouncing abuses of power. Finally, I’ll highlight the work of civil society organizations, which have added to Mexico’s democracy with initiatives like the ‘3 of 3’ law, requiring public workers to disclose their declaration of assets, declaration of interests and a tax return.”

Eduardo Bohórquez, executive director of Transparencia Mexicana: “Over the past few years, we have seen many strides made toward open government and against corruption in Mexico. None of this would have been possible without the tireless work of both journalists and civil society. The creation of the National Anti-corruption System (NAS) is a great example of how mobilization and grassroots organizing can lead to changes in policy, and how lawmakers and civil society can work together. However, it must be noted that the NAS is just the beginning. Many more anti-corruption measures are necessary, including civil society’s demand for an independent attorney general. The chief concern, both now and after the elections, is the continued closing of the civic space. This is not just a Mexican phenomenon, but rather a global one. We have seen this happen in countries like Turkey, Hungary, and increasingly in the United States, and we have begun to see it here with increased attacks against the press, the Pegasus malware for activists, and the passing of the Internal Security Law. There is a great risk that a new government, whoever may lead it, might continue to double down on this trend, seeing civil society not as an independent critic and a potential ally, but rather as an adversary. This is something we in civil society need to push back against.”

Paul Lagunes, assistant professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs: “Andrés Manuel López Obrador is poised to win the upcoming presidential election in Mexico. He is a seasoned politician whose supporters fervently believe will tackle corruption. However, his tenure as mayor of Mexico City was not scandal free. His treasury secretary was filmed in Las Vegas gambling more than what a government salary would seemingly permit. His main political operator was soon after recorded stuffing money into his portfolio and pockets. More recently, López Obrador has built alliances with questionable individuals while failing to support Mexico’s civil society in its valiant effort to promote accountability. Tackling corruption is, of course, difficult. The question is whether López Obrador will be able to learn from past mistakes, distance himself from controversial figures, engage organized civil society in a meaningful way and deliver the honest government that Mexico needs and deserves. One should hope so.”

The Latin America Advisor features Q&A with leaders in politics, economics, and finance every business day. The publication is available to members of the Dialogue's Corporate Program and others by subscription.

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