ITAM and its Alumni Association held the 2021 Political Perspectives Seminar online with the participation of Adam Przeworski, renowned international analyst on issues of democracy and political economy, and a large number of experts in national politics.
At the inauguration of the seminar, Xiuh Tenorio, president of the ITAM Alumni Association, pointed out that democracy is fundamental for the country. He said that this year new elements have been incorporated into the largest elections in history, such as gender parity of candidacies, the handling of fake news, the emergence of new parties and legislative re-election, among others. He added that, with the arrival of Morena to the presidency, much has been discussed about the role of the opposition and whether any change will come about in these elections.
Arturo Fernández, ITAM president, mentioned that this seminar is a very opportune event considering the political times in the country. He said that the June elections are coming and it is a very important moment in which citizens will decide the course of the country in the next three years, at least, in five fundamental aspects: rule of law, division of powers, the strength of institutions, the direction of the economy and the future of democracy.
Challenges of democracy in 2021
For the initial conference, Lorenzo Córdova, Counselor President of the National Electoral Institute, highlighted what has happened in the past seven years, since the more recent electoral reform was approved, and what would happen in 2021, when the largest and most complex elections in Mexican history will take place. For the first time, there will be elections in 32 entities: the election of 15 governors; voting for all but two local congresses and for municipalities in 30 states.
He mentioned that between 2015 and 2021, all public positions in the country have been renewed at least once, which has led to the largest turnover rate in the history of Mexico, of more than 65%. The alternation shows more and more that we are witnessing the use of suffrage not only as a mechanism to elect representatives, but also as a mechanism of reward or punishment.
According to Córdova, we are moving toward a collective federalism. The next challenge will be to bet on a cheaper system. The complication, he said, is that if we continue assigning tasks to the INE, it is very difficult to lower costs. Fortunately, in spite of the fact that the INE suffered the largest budget cut in its history in a federal election year, the June 6 elections are not at risk. However, the cost of this year’s popular referendum is very high; it also represents a budgetary problem for the institution since it was not taken into account when it presented its budget to the Treasury. The institute is still waiting for the Finance Minister to resolve the budget of 1.5 billion pesos in order to carry out the popular referendum that the federal government itself promoted and is obliged to finance.
Finally, Córdova commented that the challenges for the June elections have not changed much: poverty persists, there is abysmal inequality, as well as problems of impunity and corruption. However, this year we will face new “big” problems – misinformation caused by the penetration and speed of social networks, as well as increasingly polarized societies. These problems were further intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he recalled, democracy, like security, is a co-responsibility.
Media and Freedom of Expression
The panel on the analysis of the media and freedom of expression in Mexico was held with the participation of Denise Dresser, political science professor; Carlos Mota, journalist at El Heraldo de México and TV Azteca; Yuriria Sierra, journalist at Imagen TV; Ana Paul Ordorica, journalist at Televisa and El Universal and Luis Estrada, general director at SPIN-TCP.
In his initial presentation, Luis Estrada said that the early morning press conferences (las mañaneras) are the axis of governance of the López Obrador government, and he said that no one in the world does this. For her part, Denisse Dresser pointed out that what the president does in the conferences is to polarize and question. “COVID or the economic debacle is not the enemy, but those who are pointed out by his finger.”
Yuriria Sierra began her presentation by pointing out that democracy itself is at risk with the current treatment of journalism and Ana Paula Ordorica affirmed that President López Obrador has wasted the opportunity to unify Mexicans. The initial interventions ended with Carlos Mota who said that freedom of expression would not be an issue in another era, but today it seems like an obligatory one.
Horacio Vives brought up the questioning about the differences between the presidential and the media platforms. Denisse Dresser pointed out that words matter and must be used responsibly. Therefore, it is worrisome for freedom of expression that the president shows aversion against the media. That is what authorities, now classified as authoritarian populists, do, she said. Carlos Mota concluded by pointing out that the president placed him among the five most critical columnists, however, he affirmed that this has not stopped him from continuing to publish.
2021 Elections: Polarization in Mexico?
This panel was held with the participation of Alejandro Moreno, director of polls and opinion studies at El Financiero and political science professor; Lorena Becerra, director of surveys for Reforma; Roy Campos, president of Consulta Mitofsky; Azucena Cháidez, associated director, SIMO México, and Jorge Buendía, general director of Buendía & Márquez.
Alejandro Moreno pointed out that political polarization is mentioned a lot, but it has not been measured much. It is not a new phenomenon, but it responds to electoral cycles. However, voters have become increasingly polarized. On the other hand, Lorena Becerra said that the 2018 election focused on the rejection of corruption, but that by winning, AMLO turned the discussion into a class issue. Today the division is more social and not one of fighting corruption.
Roy Campos spoke next. He pointed out that polarization works around López Obrador. Later, Azucena Cháidez explained that those who support AMLO will vote regardless of how the pandemic has been managed. Jorge Buendía concluded by emphasizing that we must bear in mind that the question to ask is how social class conflicts become political conflicts and that part of the political game is to convert social differences into political differences.
Legislative Counterweight From 2021?
In another of the analysis panels the issue of the legislative counterweight was addressed. Those who participated were María Amparo Casar, executive president of Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad (Mexicans Against Corruption and Impunity); Federico Estévez, political science professor; Jeffrey Weldon, political science professor; and Fernando Dworak, coordinator of the Certification Program on Legislative Planning and Operation. Maricarmen Nava, citizen commissioner of the Instituto de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información Pública, Protección de Datos Personales y Rendición de Cuentas de la Ciudad de México (Institute of Transparency, Access to Public Information, Protection of Personal Data and Accountability of Mexico City) (InfoCDMX), moderated the panel.
The participants agreed that the legislative counterweight goes beyond a party having a majority in Congress. They said that in the face of an unreasonable opposition – lacking in intelligence, incapable and incompetent – which has not known how to connect with the people, nor promote an alternative agenda, and that does not understand the rhetoric of the President, what is left is exerting pressure on legislators or accompanying their work from civil society, as well as from existing institutional, political, legal and international channels, although they recognized that to date their influence has been minimal.
They warned about the risk of a political party dominating Congress for a long period of time because that leads to the dominance of the different agencies and independent bodies, in addition to resorting to legal and illegal actions to broaden their powers.
Violence and Democracy
Another panel was held with the participation of Catalina Pérez Correa, research professor at CIDE; Vidal Romero, political science professor and co-director at the Centro de Estudios de Seguridad, Inteligencia y Gobernanza del ITAM, CESIG (Center for Security, Intelligence and Governance Studies at ITAM); Jorge Tello, political science professor and co-director at CESIG and Gerson Mata, researcher at CESIG.
The speakers in the panel coincided about the danger of the current violence in the country and the effects that it will have on public life in Mexico, especially in the framework of this year’s electoral process. Among some of the outstanding points in the conversation was the affirmation of Gerson Mata, who said that democracy and security are a co-responsibility. Catalina Pérez Correa pointed out the increase in military interference in the security process in Mexico and emphasized that in this government there has been an increase in the militarization that already existed in previous governments. Vidal Romero questioned the effects of violence on Mexican democracy and said that, unfortunately, two of them are that the government message is less believable for the victims and that the government evaluation is deteriorating.
Jorge Tello pointed out that violence is the way to destroy democracy, but it has also been the call for its construction. This panel concluded with the considerations to the questions raised by Agustín Basave about the use of verbal violence by populist governments.
Crisis of Democracy
The ITAM Political Perspectives Seminar ended with the keynote lecture “Crises of Democracy”, by Adam Przeworski, professor at New York University. Professor Adam Przeworski was introduced by Alberto Simpser, head of the political science department at ITAM and by Alexandra Uribe, director of the undergraduate political science program.
Dr. Przeworski said the world today is not going through a “global crisis” of democracy, as there are clear examples of success stories such as Canada, Uruguay, etc. However, there are countries where democratic institutions have been weakened. This challenges the accepted theory that democracies are successful when it comes to economically developed countries that have a history of a peaceful transition of power. He also spoke of the increase in inequality, the movement to the right of the economic positions of political parties and the mechanisms by which today anti-democratic leaders are currently emerging in democratic countries.
Przeworski posed the question, “Is the crisis of democracy driven by economic or cultural factors?” He explained that economic factors are always significant, but in terms of the vote, they explain very little. He said there seems to be a kind of fascination with new trends, but also today people in identical economic situations perceive the world very differently depending on their party affiliation, which is known as partisan motivated reasoning. This leads us to the question, if political attitudes are not economically rationalizable, where do xenophobia, racism and resentment come from?
Alejandra Peralta, VP for Advancement and Institutional Communication at ITAM, thanked the nearly 500 people who attended the seminar, the people from ITAM and the Alumni Association who participated in the organization of the event. She emphasized that, despite the distance, the activities that have been carried out by the Alumni Association have shown that the ITAM community is united.
At the closing of the seminar, Dr. Alejandro Hernández, ITAM vice president, noted that, two and half months before the elections, there is a risk of democracy in Mexico that represents a challenge for Mexicans, so it is necessary for each one of us to keep reflecting on and taking responsibility for strengthening democracy.