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A good idea whose time might come

25 April 2015

Although it was shot down (for now, anyway) an interesting political reform that might pave the way to a post-party democracy has surfaced here.  Basically under the excuse that its too close to the  elections now to reform our legislative system, representatives from the 20 million indigenous Mexicans in 28 states have proposed that the indigenous communities could elect representatives to a sixth “conscription”.

indexMexico’s electoral system was designed to prevent any one political PARTY from gaining complete control.  It’s a complicated process, but in addition to the representatives elected by district or state, there are an addition batch of legislators chosen by the parties based on their relative vote within the five “conscriptions”… a multi-state regional area… based on complicated formulas that preclude any one party from having more than 2/3rds of the seats in any one house.  Meant to assure that minority parties are guaranteed at least a seat in the legislature, the system has been endlessly tweaked, mostly to guarantee the hegemony of the three major parties, PRI, PAN and also-ran PRD.

This serves the party interests very well, if not guaranteeing some politicians a seat in the legislature, at least guaranteeing they will be candidates for one office or another.  But does it serve the interests of their constituents?

I’m not convinced that living in the same general geographical area has much to do with whether a representative can speak for my interests (what does a yuppie in Guadalajara have in common with a Mixtec farmer, other than perhaps both living in the State of Jalisco?).   Though we’re stuck with administration by geographical proximity, I’ve wondered whether representation by geographical proximity is even necessary.  Maybe in the 18th century, it seemed like a good idea, just to make it easier to count ballots, there is no technical reason voting MUST be this way.  One could vote, by say, economic or social interest.

Which makes the idea floated by the indigenous representatives so intriguing.  Having common interests, but spread over 28 states (at least this group), they see common interests less tied to geography (where indigenous communities are often outnumbered by their neighbors) than ethnicity… or, in this instance, by the recognition in the Constitution of their right to adhere to “usos y costumbres”.  That is, although separated by political boundaries within the country, they share enough common values to justify representation in a body supposedly representing the people as a whole.

I’m not sure ethnicity is the best way to select representatives (perhaps by “social sector”… labor, business, education, agriculture… or whatever fits the country’s population the best), and I don’t think we’ll ever completely dispense with the need for geographical representatives or with political parties, but extending proportional voting to meet the shared interests of larger constituencies sounds perfectly rational… and perfectly “do-able” to me — the technology certainly exists to control ballot access to voters within any given constituency now no matter where the voter is in the country (Mexico pioneered the software for the gold standard of voter identification procedures) and counting ballots over the whole country to determine seats in a legislature isn’t any more complex than counting national ballots as far as the computers are concerned.

With the idea of a new Constitution having been floated by both the left and by the Catholic Church, and the low regard for political parties (especially the traditional big three) right now, perhaps Mexico could rethink the political process, creating something new, and something suitable for the 21st century.

Georgina Saldierna, Indígenas exigen elegir a sus legisladores sin partidos Jornada, 24 April 2015, page 10.

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