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Upcoming Mexican Election Seen as Travesty of Democracy

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WITH the United States Congress preparing to vote on NAFTA, and influential members of the House and Senate voicing concerns about democracy in Mexico, President Carlos Salinas de Gortari has produced electoral reform for the second time in his administration. On first inspection, many of the changes seem impressive: Limits will be set on campaign spending, voter identification cards will include photographs to help deter fraudulent balloting, and the Mexican Senate is being expanded to include more members of opposition parties.

Yet members of Congress should be concerned that the ``reform'' legislation is not all it appears to be, and that it sidesteps an Organization of American States (OAS) ruling, calling on the Mexican government to enact far more essential reforms. Two years ago the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS found Mexico in violation of Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which requires the holding of ``genuine'' elections that guarantee the ``free expression of the will of the voters.''

Following a complaint filed by legislators of the opposition National Action Party (PAN), the commission informed Mexico that to comply with Article 23 it would have to enact two fundamental reforms: creation of ``independent'' and ``impartial'' electoral commissions and establishment of effective means of appealing fraud.

Neither condition is met by the latest reforms. As it stands, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has ruled Mexico for the past 64 years, will continue to dominate the federal electoral council.

The PRI has six seats (nine counting three satellite parties that depend on government subsidies) to a total of five for the opposition (PAN and PRD). Six additional councilors are nominated by the president. The government characterizes these as ``independent'' because they are subject to confirmation by a two-thirds vote of the Chamber of Deputies. With control of 63 percent of the lower house, the PRI can practically muster the two-thirds on its own. Should the requisite majority prove unattainable, councilors are selected by lot from the same list of presidential nominees. Hence the president prevails one way or the other, ensuring his partisans a greater than 2-to-1 majority on the council and complete control of the electoral bureaucracy.

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