Democracy in Mexico is facing a critical situation. The country is immersed in a deep social malaise amid a complex electoral process where weak political parties and a large number of candidates distributed across three coalitions and independent movements compete for the presidency.

The illegality at play amid the highest echelons of power where decisions are taken (or not), exacerbates some of the country’s most pressing problems: acts of corruption and impunity, public insecurity, and high rates of inequality all destabilise the country.

It is unsurprising that citizens express their discontent with public actors and institutions as a result of the slow growth of the Mexican economy and the limited visible benefits brought about by the much-lauded reforms implemented during the current administration.

Disillusionment with politics

The political disenchantment that has resulted from the country’s political, social, and economic problems has caused the levels of approval of its democratic system to diminish markedly. According to a Latinobarómetro Report, in 2017 the percentage of support for democracy in Mexico fell from 48 to 38 percent – losing ten points on its 2016 measure – and registering the largest drop in all of the countries in Latin America.

This degree of support is the second lowest in the country since 1995. Although corruption, insecurity, and economic inequality are not actual components with which democracy is measured, they affect citizens’ perception democratic regimes.

Enrique Peña Nieto hands wide
Enrique Peña Nieto will leave office this year after a tenure that has been plagued by corruption and spiralling violence in Mexico. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

In the first place, corruption is one of the problems that most deeply destroys the foundations of a democracy since it dismantles public institutions, generates distrust among citizens and, in so doing, diminishes the legitimacy of any political process.

Justice procurement institutions have been involved in this phenomenon as they are used as a weapon for protection or political revenge and are not institutions capable of providing equal justice for all. It is thus not surprising that 98% of corruption cases are met with impunity in Mexico. Similarly, the country’s score continues to drop in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), falling from 30 to 29 points out of the 100 in the 2017 report.

It has been pointed out that this is due to a lack of punishment for the huge corruption cases that have come to light over the last few months; the resistance that the political class has demonstrated in establishing the National Anticorruption System, and the lack of political will to assign an Anticorruption Prosecutor, whose designation process has already been postponed until after the 1 July elections.

In addition, Mexico has the worst corruption index rating in the provision of public services in Latin America, particularly in access to education, health care and personal documentation.

Uptick in violence

On the other hand, levels of insecurity in Mexico represent an even greater risk for the country’s governability. Violence is one of the problems that has the most direct impact on rule of law, as it deprives citizens of their free enjoyment of human rights. The repercussions of organized crime have not ceased since the beginning of the failed strategy to combat drug trafficking.

Despite the fact that there was a period of decreasing violence rates, beginning in 2014 these skyrocketed, as reported by the National Executive Secretariat. In fact, 2017 was declared the most violent of the last 20 years in Mexico. During the past 12 months, a total of 25,339 intentional homicides were recorded, equivalent to 70 murders per day.

Mexico march crowd protest
Marches have been held across Mexico to protest against the violent crime wave sweeping the country. Photo credit: Flickr.

Insecurity has also been present during this election period. According to the Report on Political Violence in Mexico 2018 prepared by Etellekt Consultores, between 8 September 2017 (the day in which the electoral calendar was officially published) and 6 February 2018, there were 83 attacks on politicians.

This resulted in the murder of 54 of these; among them mayors in office, former mayors, councillors and precandidates at the local level. What is most worrisome is that police institutions, whose responsibility is primarily to safeguard citizens and rebuild social coexistence, are seen as one of the most corrupt institutions – and the one in which citizens have the lowest confidence; 6 out of 10 citizens surveyed in the Global Corruption Barometer think that the Mexican police are corrupt.

Social inequalities

Finally, inequality is one of the main factors that hinders Mexico’s democracy due to a lack of inclusive economic growth. Currently, more than 50 million Mexicans live in poverty, while the 10 richest people in Mexico accumulate the same amount of capital as the poorest 50% of the country.

Ignacio Urquizu, a Spanish sociologist and professor at Madrid’s Universidad Complutense, has stated that once democracy appears in a country, bad economic performance could contribute to end a democratic system.

This coincides with a statistical correlation analysis carried out by OXFAM, which sought to verify the relationship between income inequality and citizens’ support for democracy. The results showed that the perception of the economy in a country leads citizens to question the effectiveness of its democracy.

Corruption aggravates the problem of inequality still further. According to the Global Corruption Barometer, in the course of 2017, 30% of the poorest declared paying for a bribe, compared to 25% for the richest. Thus, having lower disposable income, people with limited resources have to allocate a greater percentage of their income to payments for corruption.

Crucial electoral cycle

Demanding that the elected president develops policies and strategic agreements that improve the economic situation of the country, provide security for Mexicans and, above all, curb acts of corruption – will be vital.

Mexico needs a leader with the full vocation of serving the nation, and with the conviction of achieving a state that has strong public institutions capable of recovering the trust of Mexicans. In turn, citizens will have to become more actively involved in the political life of our country, ensuring that public interests take precedence over private gains.

The greatest achievement for the reconstruction of Mexican democracy will be to reinvent the way politics is done; giving way to a system in which citizens play a central role in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of programs and policies.

It is up to Mexicans to demand spaces for citizen participation where they propose solutions to the problems that the country faces in order to achieve that prosperous and democratic Mexico that they so long for.

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