By Andres Oppenheimer


A group of 46 high-profile Mexican politicians and academics from across the ideological spectrum shook this country recently with a daring proposal to end Mexico's political gridlock: forcing whomever is elected president in 2012 to form a coalition government.

The proposal, which made front page headlines in Mexico's biggest newspapers, was signed by several presidential hopefuls from all three major parties -- including Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, of the center-left Revolutionary Democratic Party (PRD), Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, of the nationalist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Santiago Creel, of the center-right ruling National Action Party (PAN) -- as well as by writer Carlos Fuentes and several prominent academics.

While other leading politicians have reservations about the proposal, there is a wide consensus that Mexico needs to do something to change its dysfunctional three-party political system, in which two opposition parties systematically block the ruling party's legislative proposals.

Much like in Washington, D.C., nowadays, political gridlock has virtually paralyzed Mexico's government for more than a decade. It has made it almost impossible for recent presidents to pass much-needed energy, labor or fiscal reforms. As a result, Mexico's economy has been growing at a much slower pace than the rest of Latin America, even before it was hit by the 2008 U.S. economic downturn.

"It's a good idea," says Robert Pastor, an American University expert on Mexico and author of the new book The North American Idea, referring to the coalition government proposal. "It reflects a desire by all parties to move toward a more efficient model."

Under the new proposal, the Mexican Congress would pass a constitutional amendment specifically allowing coalition governments. It would also create the position of "chief of cabinet," whose nominee would have to be ratified by the Senate, and who would serve as a bridge between the president and Congress.

In a telephone interview, PRI Senator Beltrones told me that the constitutional amendment would be optional, but would encourage future presidents to form coalition governments.

While there have been isolated cases of Mexican presidents inviting opposition party figures into their Cabinets in the past, the practice was seen by many as a betrayal of political loyalties and the voters' will, he said.

"Putting this in the constitution would help re-educating those of us who are used to the old presidential system, and would move us into a culture of negotiations," Beltrones told me.

Front-running presidential hopeful Enrique Pena Nieto, a former Mexico state governor of the PRI party, has not joined the coalition government proposal. Pena Nieto's supporters prefer a congressional "over-representation" rule that would give the next president's party an automatic majority in Congress.

President Felipe Calderón's Government Minister Francisco Blake Mora, in turn, told Mexican media that the best idea to end Mexico's political paralysis would be creating a run-off election, which would help elect presidents with a mandate. Calderón won the 2006 elections with less than 1 percent of the vote.

Former Foreign Minister Jorge G. Castaneda, author of the recent book Manana Forever, told me he didn't sign the coalition proposal, among other things, because it has little chances of materializing.

Castaneda, who supports a second-round election, said leading presidential hopeful Pena Nieto controls 200 legislators in Congress who are not going to pass the proposal because they believe their candidate will win by a landslide and won't need outside help to govern.

"Besides, they put the procedure ahead of the content," Castaneda told me. "They want to form a coalition government, but a coalition for what?"

My opinion: I'm not getting into the legal intricacies of Mexico's electoral laws, but it's clear that this country's economy is moving at a snail's pace because of a political architecture that doesn't allow any president to pass meaningful laws. I don't know whether it would be best to adopt the coalition government proposal, or a run-off election, but any of them would be better than the current system.

And, just as important, the new coalition government proposal makes me wonder whether the United States would not benefit from starting a similar debate to unlock its current political gridlock, which is one of the major causes of the U.S. and global economic crises. It's time for Washington -- much like Mexico -- to start thinking of new ways to end its political paralysis.


Twitter: @ihavenetnews


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