The Balance of Power in Congress

Tue, 01/22/2013 - 11:20

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto inaugurated his sixyear term with a powerful slogan: “It is time to take Mexico forward”. Since then, he has promoted several reforms related to the government’s five pivotal goals for the next six years, which have been included in the Pact for Mexico. In order to achieve these and other goals, significant structural changes must be made to Mexico’s institutional framework. Mexico’s Congress is, consequently, the biggest stepping stone in enabling President Peña Nieto to implement his National Development Plan.

Mexico’s Congress is composed of two chambers, each comprised of representatives from seven political parties. The biggest political force in both legislative bodies is Peña Nieto’s PRI, followed by the right-leaning PAN, which held o·ce for the last two presidential terms. The third largest legislative group in both chambers is leftist opposition PRD, and the PRI’s electoral ally, PVEM, follows in a distant fourth place. Together, these four parties occupy 121 of the 128 seats in the Senate (94%) and 455 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies (91%). If these four main political parties support the reforms proposed in the Pact for Mexico, the approval process could be expeditious.

Nevertheless, the Pact is not a binding resolution and it does not guarantee the vote of the signatories’ representatives in Congress. With 213 deputies, the PRI does not control the lower chamber, and the PVEM, expected to align with the government in all legislative matters, only holds 28 seats in the chamber, which does not su·ce to make the PRI-PVEM electoral coalition an absolute majority. The distribution of the Senate is very similar; despite being the biggest political force, the PRI’s 54 senators are not an absolute majority, and the PVEM’s small legislative group of seven does not tip the balance of power.

Consensus with either the PAN or PRD regarding any of the proposed reforms would guarantee their approval. However, if both opposition parties decide to vote against reform, the remaining small parties who make up only 6% of the Senate and 9% of the Chamber of Deputies would become very important. Of these three, Movimiento Ciudadano and PT, two leftist parties often seen as more radical than the PRD, would be unlikely to support the PRI’s initiatives, especially regarding energy reform. The other, Nueva Alianza, has 10 deputies in the lower chamber, which would be enough to form a majority with the PRI and the PVEM, but this coalition would still need three more votes in the Senate.

The appointment of experienced politician and former PRI leader Pedro Joaquín Coldwell as Energy Minister was an early sign of the new government’s intentions of rallying support in Congress for an energy reform. Joaquín Coldwell has a political career spanning more than 30 years and has been both a deputy and a senator. In addition, he has been President of the PRI’s National Political Council. Therefore, his influence over his party’s groups in Congress will allow him to e†ectively pursue an energy reform and ensure a cohesive e†ort in its favor within both chambers.

The PRI is definitely in an advantageous position to seek for the structural changes Peña Nieto promised during his presidential campaign. This situation might change, however, after the midterm elections of 2015 when a new political party might alter the electoral scenario. For example, former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his projected political party, Morena, could emerge as a noteworthy contender in the midterm elections. It is now up to the PRI to utilize its favorable position and move the country forward before 2015, lest it lose its golden opportunity to do so.