Latin America
3:16 am
Fri December 6, 2013

Mexico Contemplates Changing Term-Limit Rule

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 8:49 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's go next to Mexico, a country that has the ultimate term limits: nobody can be re-elected. The restriction has actually become a point of national pride; it's been around for a century.

NPR's Carrie Kahn has been following the story from Mexico City.

Hi, Carrie.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So how did term limits get so tough in Mexico?

KAHN: Well, this ban dates back to the Mexican Revolution, so we have to go back to the turn of the 20th century. And it comes out of that seven year struggle against the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz here. And he was president for seven terms, that's nearly three decades. You know, this ban is similar to the presidential term limits that were instituted in the U.S. after FDR's terms in office. But these Mexican term limits, as you said, are one of the toughest in the democratic world. Presidents only serve one six-year term, and mayors, they only get three years.

You know, as in post-revolution in Mexico, the slogan has long been here: Effective suffrage, no re-election. And for years, this was stamped on all the official documents. There are even streets in the country that are named like Avenue No Re-election Boulevard. No re-election. So this has long been fundamental to Mexico's electoral political life.

INSKEEP: You know, there are people in the United States who might think that that's the ideal because there have been movements for term limits in the United States. And the idea has taken hold that lawmakers stay too long and they get to be too much part of the establishment. Here's Mexico having no re-election whatsoever, why would they want to change that?

KAHN: It's funny that you said it like that because I spoke to an analyst just yesterday. And he was saying, you know, I'd love to have those problems that you're talking about, that you can get rid of the politicians. We would love to have that as a problem because what you have here is that if you have a mayor who can only be in office for three years, it doesn't really allow for good governance. They have no civil servant workforce. You bring in the people with you and you take them when you leave.

I've seen towns in Mexico where not only does the mayor take all of his people with him and all that expertise that has built up over three years, but he also takes all the furniture. He takes all the computers, all the pens, everything. And you also get entrenched political parties where these mayors and these local legislators are more beholden to the political parties than they are to the voters. And so that's something that they really want to put an end to.

INSKEEP: Oh, because they don't have an independent power base that they can maintain, they have to be thinking about where their next job is coming from and so they're dependent on someone.

KAHN: Exactly. Exactly.

INSKEEP: So what is the Mexican congress talking about doing about this?

KAHN: Well, what the law would do is the mayors could now serve - if this all passes - two three-year terms, so that would be six in total, legislators and senators can serve up to 12 years. But this does not affect current lawmakers, though. It also allows for more power for independent parties and it creates a new national electoral body that would have more power over determining voter roles, electoral districts. And this new electoral body could also annul elections if candidates were to surpass campaign spending limits - which has always been a problem.

This is pretty amazing. You know, this is really the first major reform since the democratic opening in Mexico began in the 1990s; that's when they created the first independent electoral institute, which led to the 2000 -elections and broke the PRI Party, the ruling party's 70-year run here in Mexico, so this is, these are major reforms.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask, Carrie Kahn, whenever you talk about changing election rules in the United States, people become very suspicious, and they're asking whether one party or the other is trying to rig the system to get a little extra advantage. Are people suspicious about the changes in Mexico?

KAHN: Of course. There's all - whenever you talk about politics in Mexico there's great skepticism. And I think you have to put this in the context of what's happening in Mexico right now. We have a new president who has been in office for a year who is pushing through a very aggressive economic reform package. And the flagship of that will be his reform of Mexico's state oil monopoly. He wants to open it up, modernize it and make it more efficient. He can't do that because that's a constitutional amendment and he needs a two-thirds vote in the congress to amend the constitution. He can't do that without the PAN Party, that's the opposition party. And this has long been - this political reform has long been - their pet project, and they want this, and the president wants the oil reforms. So this was the tradeoff; you give me political reform, I'll help you open up the oil system.

INSKEEP: There's the compromise. Carrie, thanks very much.

KAHN: No, thank you very much.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.