Home News Mexican presidents can only serve one term. Is that a good thing?

Mexican presidents can only serve one term. Is that a good thing?

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Mexico’s current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often known by his initials AMLO, is so popular that he would almost certainly have won reelection if his name had appeared on last Sunday’s ballot.

But Mexico’s constitution strictly limits the president to one term, so climate scientist and Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, who López Obrador designated as his successor, ran. A big win.

It is relatively rare for a president to be limited to one term. Many countries, such as the United States and France, allow two terms in office. In parliamentary systems such as the United Kingdom, Spain and Canada, there are no term limits: the prime minister is technically chosen by his or her party, not the voters (although the party officials who choose them are usually elected by the public), and they can remain in office as long as their party leaders, the government and their parliamentary colleagues support them.

The downsides of one-term limits are fairly obvious: A president-elect may have just begun implementing ambitious long-term policy goals or structural reforms. Leaving office at the end of a term can mean important work is left unfinished or easily erased by a successor.

Some might argue that the entire concept of term limits is undemocratic. After all, the purpose of term limits is to prevent the public from electing their preferred candidate if that candidate has already served the maximum allowed term.

So why can’t voters choose for themselves?

The answer, experts say, lies in the delicate balance needed to protect democracy from its own influence.

Term limits can prevent presidential systems from sliding toward democratic regression or authoritarianism. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution: some countries with high corruption rates or a recent history of authoritarianism may benefit from shorter term limits.

Over the years, in conversations with experts who study democratic decline, I’ve often heard some seemingly bizarre advice: If you want to protect democracy, you’d better not also a lot of.

I know this sounds contradictory. But for a democracy to be stable, it needs more than just the choices of voters. Democracies also need checks and balances to prevent one person or party from wielding too much power, and institutions to ensure that the system works properly.

Take referendums. Referendums are often portrayed as the purest form of democracy, but political scientists have found that rather than preserving democracy, they undermine it. Because voters often lack expertise or information, referendums tend to hand power to elites who can influence the narrative in the news media. And direct voting is often volatile, swayed by irrelevant partisan sentiment.

The consequences of the Brexit referendum Misinformation is rampantconfirming this criticism. According to a recent survey, 56% of Britons now say that voting to leave the EU was a mistake, and only 9% believe Brexit was a success. YouGov poll.

So while unfettered voting options (whether on policy or the president) may seem like the purest democratic choice, it is not always the best one. Voters may not realize that serving multiple presidents in office may allow them to consolidate their power, ultimately undermining democracy in the long run. Term limits build automatic protections into the system.

In the so-called “third” wave of democratization at the end of the 20th century, countries that emerged from authoritarianism (including many in Latin America) wrote new constitutions to establish democratic norms, which often included term limits.

They represent “an important check on executive power to ensure that those authoritarian regimes don’t reappear,” said Kristen McKee, a political scientist at St Lawrence University in New York.

Mexico’s presidential term limits date back more than a century to the revolution that toppled the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, ending nearly three decades of rule.

“The fact that Díaz stayed in power for so long was one of the causes of the Mexican Revolution,” said Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer, a political scientist at the College of Mexico in Mexico City. “‘Effective suffrage, no re-election’ was one of the slogans of the revolution.”

The 1910 revolution did not bring democracy, but rather one of the longest-lasting one-party dictatorships in history. The government at the time still respected the legal provisions for re-election, with the president serving a six-year term before handing power to a successor who “won” in a non-competitive election.

This tradition meant that when Mexico finally transitioned to democracy in the late 20th century, the presidential reelection ban was a strict norm. Trying to circumvent or change it was considered taboo, even for a president as popular as AMLO.

Many experts told me that it’s a good thing that Mexico’s president only has one term, especially considering that the country’s presidential term is already quite long, at six years.

“Mexico’s strong no-reelection rule helps protect the country from democratic collapse,” said Sanchez-Taranquer.

Steven Levitsky, a Harvard political scientist and co-author of How Democracies Die, agreed. “For an emerging democracy, or a fragile democracy, it’s critical that power rotates,” he said, adding: “I think it would be very dangerous if AMLO got another six years.”

In Venezuela and many other Latin American countries, eliminating or evading term limits is an effective strategy for populist leaders who came to power democratically but undermine democracy once in office.

If term limits are ignored once, they are likely to be ignored again. The longer presidents stay in office, the more opportunities they have to install allies on the courts to approve their agenda.

These effects are more pronounced in countries with high levels of corruption, as politicians trade material benefits such as government positions or contracts for political support. Longer terms in office mean more time to build patronage networks to consolidate personal power.

Interestingly, term limits don’t seem to matter that much to legislators. For them, experience is valuable, and term limits could make legislatures less effective at making policy, McKee said. Because legislative power is exercised collaboratively, there’s less risk that a single member of Congress or parliament could gain enough power to undermine democracy.

Yet even presidential term limits are hardly a panacea for protecting democracy. In Mexico, “the outlook is very dark,” Sánchez-Taranquer said. Sheinbaum pledged to support AMLO’s proposed constitutional reforms, which would Focus more energy By weakening the opposition, the presidency is controlled by making judges and electoral authorities elected officials by popular vote. Elected judges and officials are often less effective as checks on other branches of government, especially when the politicians they are supposed to check are from their own party or are very popular with the public.

Although AMLO will officially leave office at the end of his term, it remains to be seen how much influence he can have on Sheinbaum.


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