December 22, 2015

Render unto Caesar

Render unto Caesar

In Mexico, traditional narratives grant the paternity of transition to democracy to the Right. However, one of the key determinants of the Mexican democratic change was proportional representation. A 1947 political demand of the Communist Party.

The Left and democracy have a twofold and complex relationship in Mexico. If, as Margaret Canovan puts it, democracy, like politics in general, has redemptive (way of life towards more egalitarian relationships) and pragmatic (electoral procedures) components, once a political regime is defined as a democracy, one of the two faces tend to prevail. This is particularly evident in the Latin American transitions to democracy. For instance, when we look at the so-called Left Turn in Venezuela, Bolivia Ecuador and Argentina, against neoliberalism, political actors appealed to the redemptive understanding of democracy. In this context, Mexico is a distinctive case. For most of the 20th Century, the Mexican left, which was essentially represented by the Communist Party, faced a dilemma between making common cause with the socialist narrative of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and pursuing a distinctive political strategy. As well know, the Communist Parties chose the first option. A choice that generated initial internal dissent and that have shaped the political history of Mexico.

After the Second World War, members of the Communist Party and future-founders of the Popular Party started asking for political reforms towards democracy and full respect of voting procedures. Specifically, they demanded the transition towards a system of proportional representation, clean elections, representation of all parties in the electoral authority, and the right to vote for every man and woman aged 18 years and older.

In this way, historical evidence shows that the Communist Party aimed at replicating the Italian model and at achieving a government capable to guarantee national unity and democracy. This ambition and its underlying political agenda became a constant for years, until repression beginning in 1956. A critical juncture that translated the claim for national unity into a mobilization for destabilizing the ruling power. Moreover, between 1967 and 1968, during the government of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, repression became manifest, leading to more stringent demand for electoral reforms.

In that moment, the pragmatic and redemptive components intersected. It became imperative, for the government, to fulfill some redemptive features of democracy, while, for the opposition, whatever egalitarian rhetoric was in place, it needed to be coupled with pragmatic changes. Eventually, this put the struggle for formal democracy at the core of Mexican public life. From there and until the presidential alternation in Mexico (2000), the Left gradually abandoned socialism as a struggle and chose the institutionalization of democracy as its predominant political demand.

This ideological shift has produced fundamental consequences for today’s policy agenda in Mexico. Gradually, the Left has adopted a liberal discourse, its electoral program has lost consistency and, a radical Left band have been enacted. Only, with the rise of Mr Obrador’s populist movement, the redemptive character of democracy seems to be explicitly back in public discourses. Something that lacks of ideological commitment and cultural narrative. Something that does not represent a policy horizon, but a momentary political success. Something that fits perfectly in the present of Mexican politics, where lack of vision characterizes the policy agenda of parties across the ideological spectrum.

The Transition in Mexico
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About Gibrán Ramírez Reyes

Gibrán Ramírez Reyes

Gibrán Ramírez Reyes is a mexican political scientist and a public writer. He obtained his Bachelor’s degree in political science from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (where he teaches currently), and his Master’s from El Colegio de México. Twitter @gibranrr

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