By Randy Jackson
Both Mexico and the United States will hold their federal elections in 2024. Although the Republic of Mexico has a federal government structure similar to that of the United States, with both countries featuring a president and bicameral legislatures, the nature of the democratic process between these two nations is strikingly different. In the United States, despite the availability of other party choices, voters, in all practicality, must choose between two political parties. In contrast, Mexico’s democracy is more dynamic, with a wide variety of viable political parties. This diversity has led to the emergence of coalitions as a fundamental aspect of the country’s political landscape. In this ever-evolving political landscape, coalitions have become pivotal in determining the course of governance in Mexico.
As we approach the Mexico General Election (scheduled for June 2, 2024), it may be helpful to provide an overview of how coalitions operate within Mexico’s federal governance.
FEDERAL GOVERNMENT STRUCTURE
The federal level of Mexico’s government consists of three branches: the Executive (President), the Chamber of Deputies, and the Senate. All three branches play crucial roles in passing legislation. Each branch operates under different electoral rules. The President is elected through a plurality vote (the highest number of votes). In contrast, the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate have members elected through both plurality and proportional representation, with each employing distinct proportional representation methodologies.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COALITIONS
With the elections of 2000, seventy years of continuous single-party rule by Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) came to an end with the election of President Vicente Fox. Since then, the governance of Mexico has relied on coalitions. Under the current administration of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), seven parties hold seats in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. These seven parties are organized into two coalitions: the governing coalition and the opposition coalition.
Prior to each election cycle, new coalition agreements are established through formal agreements among the parties. In the last federal election (2018), a left-of-center coalition, calling themselves Juntos Haremos Historia (together we will make history), was formed. It consisted of MORENA (Movimiento Regeneración Nacional, or National Regeneration Movement – MRN), the Labour Party (Partido del Trabajo – PT), and the Social Encounter Party (Partido Encuentro Social – PES). This coalition emerged victorious in the election, with AMLO securing the Office of the President. The PES dissolved in 2018. In 2020, just before the midterm elections, the entire coalition dissolved, and a new coalition – Juntos Hacemos Historia (together we make [present tense] history) – added the Green Party (Partido Verde Ecologista de México, or PVEM) to its roster. This coalition has once again chosen MORENA to lead, with Claudia Sheinbaum as their presidential candidate for 2024. Neither the PT nor the PVM will field a candidate in the presidential election, thus consolidating the votes for MORENA.
On the opposition side, a center-right coalition named FAM (Frente Amplio por México, or Broad Front for Mexico) is led by the PAN (Partido Acción Nacional, or National Action Party). It also includes the PRI, MC (Movimiento Ciudadano, or Citizens’ Movement), and PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or Party of the Democratic Revolution). This coalition enters the 2024 election with the PAN’s leader, Xóchitl Gálvez, as their presidential candidate. Similarly, the other parties in the coalition will not nominate a candidate for President to maximize support for PAN.
It’s important to note that the Presidency can be won by a candidate from one of these two coalitions or even another party. Furthermore, the composition of the Congress of the Union (comprising the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate) can result in various scenarios. This may lead to the formation of new coalitions for effective governance or possibly a period of political disarray, akin to the current situation in the United States.
THE STRUCTURE OF MEXICO’S GOVERNMENT
Understanding the significance of coalitions in Mexican governance requires a basic understanding of the division of powers between government branches and the election methods for different branches.
The Office of the President
The President of Mexico serves as the head of the executive branch, with responsibilities including being the Head of Government, Head of State, Commander of the Armed Forces, and head of the Federal Public Administration. The Presidential term lasts for six years, and Presidents are ineligible to run for subsequent elections. The President plays a pivotal role in approving or vetoing legislation. To advance a legislative agenda, the President must collaborate with the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Additionally, the President is responsible for making key appointments, such as those to the Supreme Court, diplomatic posts, and various federal agencies. These appointments require confirmation by the Senate.
Presidential elections in Mexico are based on a plurality system, meaning the candidate with the most votes wins. For instance, in 2018, AMLO secured 54% of the popular vote (there were four final candidates). In 2012, Enrique Pena Nieto won the Presidency with 38% of the vote (three final candidates), and in 2006, Filipe Calderon emerged victorious with 36% of the vote (three final candidates). Coalitions play a vital role in Presidential elections, as parties within a coalition with somewhat similar political leanings abstain from running their own candidates to prevent vote splitting.
The Chamber of Deputies
The Chamber of Deputies comprises 500 members, with elections held every three years. Its powers encompass passing laws, levying taxes, declaring war, initiating impeachment proceedings, and ratifying foreign treaties. Seven parties currently hold seats in the Chamber of Deputies, grouped into two coalitions: the Governing Coalition and the Opposition Coalition.
Of the 500 deputies, 300 are elected through plurality voting in each of the 300 constituencies throughout the country. The remaining 200 deputies are allocated through proportional representation. These seats are distributed based on the popular vote in five distinct regions of Mexico, each with an allocation of 40 seats. Calculations are made to assign the percentage of seats each party receives in each of the five regions.
The Senate comprises 128 members, with four seats designated for each of the 31 states and Mexico City. Senators serve six-year terms and possess the authority to pass laws and confirm appointments to the Supreme Court, diplomatic positions, and other presidential appointments.
Out of the 128 senators, half (64) are elected directly via plurality voting in each state, along with Mexico City. An additional 64 senators are allocated through two distinct proportional representation systems. Among the directly elected Senators, the two candidates with the highest vote counts in each state and Mexico City secure a seat.
Subsequently, one additional seat is assigned for each state and Mexico City through the “First Minority System.” In this process, one Senate seat is granted for each state based on the highest percentage of national senate results overall. However, if the overall national results for the first-place party match the parties of the directly elected senators for that state and Mexico City, the seat is assigned to the next most popular party in that region.
Finally, in the “Second Minority System,” one Senate seat is allocated for each state and Mexico City based on the second highest national senate results overall. Once again, if the second most popular party nationally aligns with the party of the two directly elected senators from that state and Mexico City, the seat is awarded to the next most popular party in that region.
In conclusion, the very structure of the electoral system for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, with its proportional representation, promotes a diversity of political parties, thereby necessitating the formation of coalitions. As we approach the 2024 Mexican general election, it will be interesting to watch how the results will determine the reshaping of coalitions in the governance of Mexico.