To Govern

By Luis Rubio*

The complexity of Mexico’s political life, the violence, and the corruption, but above all the absence of a real debate on domestic problems, has generated a thousand and one diagnoses on the nature of our dilemmas. It would appear obvious that our essential problem is not corruption, violence or criminality, but the absence of a system of functional government: that is, the three levels of government and the three branches of government. This is not a matter of guilt, of the good ones or the bad ones, but rather of essence. The question is how Mexico is going to be governed.

Governing is the sum of leadership and structure. It implies rules of the game and limits of power, imposing the rules of the game equally on all unceremoniously.   Assuming the law as an obligation, not subject to negotiation or discretional application. No negotiation of reforms once they are approved. It implies recognizing that no reform will be successful if it does not advance in the terrain of legality. Therefore, to govern is to comply with the law and to make everyone else comply with it, without exception. This is not a typical PRIist characteristic but it is what the country requires.

One thing is to govern, that is to make daily life possible without brush-offs, and another thing is to create the conditions for that life to be better. The former requires permanent institutions and structures that function regardless of each administration. That is how the issue of security and justice, economic regulation and public finance should be. The latter demands great leadership to improve the daily reality. President Peña was a wizard in the second process, achieving the modification of the regulatory framework in prodigious fashion. Now comes the work of governing, which implies altering the status quo, removing vested interests and rendering the normative framework reality. Some of this is immediate, part takes time, but all of it requires enormous presidential leadership. President Peña has been exceptional in the approval of the reforms; now what is lacking is for their implementation to be equally successful.

From this perspective, there is no magic solution for our ills, but none of them can be solved without a functional government. In other words, all the reforms that one wishes for can be approved, but if these are not implemented, the country will go on the same as always. This is not a criticism of the present government or of any in particular. In former times a change could be imposed; now, without authoritarian structures, that is impossible. In this regard, the most important reform is lacking: that of the government, that of the power.

Beyond the philosophies of government and preferences in matter of public policy, what is essential about a government is not, or should not be, what changes from one administration to another, but instead what remains, that is, the basic State institutions. Among these are the police, the judiciary, and the capacity of regulation. That is, the essence of what it is to govern.

In Mexico we have confused the structural reforms required for the diverse components of the economy and the society to be viable, and the functioning of day-to-day things, including those reforms. This concerns two distinct affairs: one is changing what does not function, the other is creating conditions for everything to function. For example, one thing is there being an adequate structure for the population to be secure and another, very distinct one, is for the police to be reformed in order to reinforce or improve that security. There has been much discussion about the reforms but very little about how they are to be implemented. Changes do not happen on their own.

While the Constitution embodies a robust legal framework that reflects the distinct aspirations of the changing forces and political coalitions over time,   there has not been similar emphasis on the capacity of the State, that which permits governing. Today it is obvious that what was assumed to be a very institutional government in the old system was no more than an authoritarian system. The governing capacity was the product of control exercised through implicit threats, the PRI and co-option. Once those mechanisms began to falter, the system became –like the emperor and his new clothes in the fairytale- more authoritarian than institutional. David Konzevik sums up the dilemma in an exceptional manner. “The art of governing in a dictatorship is the art of managing fear: the art of governing in a democracy is the art of managing expectations”. That’s where Mexico is today.

A successful government in this era requires, before anything else, being functional. John Stuart Mill said in his brilliant way: “Progress includes Order, but Order does not include Progress”. The system was good in terms of order but, in the last decades, bad for progress. If Mexico wants to progress it will have to carry out a reform of the system of government that, in its essence, is a reform of the power. Without that there will be neither order nor progress which, although sounding Porfirian (1876-1910), does not mean that it is no less true.

Héctor Aguilar-Camín affirms that “the maturational time that they need (the reforms)… far outdistances the times and tribulations of the current government”. Obviously he is right: but this also can be a singular excuse to justify not making difficult decisions of implementation that entail altering the status quo. Time can be an excuse for simply kicking the can.

In the past it appeared impossible to change the law; today reforms seem easy. But they will only be reality when they are implemented, that is, when there is governing. Everything else is fiction.

* Global Fellow and Member of the Advisory Board of the Mexico Institute at the WWICS and President of the Center of Research for Development (CIDAC).



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