Democracy in contemporary world

Democracy is a form of administration where citizens in a country are represented by elected officials. Control or rule by a majority through representation is what it entails. However, as the concepts of democracy face many obstacles, they have been the focus of discussion and conflict. This idea is also influenced by social movements and powerful people. As a result, the idea of democratic waves encourages people to work for greater democracies all around the world. These waves gave rise to democratic movements that altered the direction of world history. Examples of these movements include the campaigns to abolish slavery and promote women's rights. When all of these elements are considered, a country's democratic status is shaped and established.  Huffington, the proponent of the term democratic waves, describes the notion of the wave of democracy as an idea that presupposes that each wave is followed by a withdrawal of democracy. He implies a rising wave of democracy whereby there is a pattern of two steps forward and one-step back (Schneider 2008). According to him, the adoption of democracy is in three waves the first, took place in the early 19th century in North American and Western Europe following the American and French revolutions up to the early 20th century. The second took place after the Second World War and the third in the mid-1970s in Portugal and Spain the spreading to other continents. The third wave saw the collapse of dictatorship regimes in southern Europe and Latin America (MacQueen 2013). However, there is a fourth wave of democracy, which is the recent Arab, spring that sparked protests and revolution in a couple of Arab nations.

This paper focuses on the third wave of democracy and the country under scrutiny, in this case, is Mexico. In particular, the research is on Mexico’s democratic status. It gives the country’s democratic background and history, its democratic transition, the present status of democracy and its potential for effective democracy. The paper also analyses the countries democratic consolidation/challenges to consolidation.

History of democracy in Mexico

The constitution of Mexico’s of 1917 promoted the idea of a government that is democratic. However, this was not to be seen until the late 1900s. The country was under a one-party authoritarian rule for the better part of the 20th century. The party was known as the Institutional Revolutionary Party (IRP). The party’s democratic rule was a façade since it was disguised in the forms and trappings of democratic process projected through elections and campaigns. In the real sense, the party used strict and stringent social order in the country and ruled by a fist of iron imposing an autocratic rule on Mexicans (Council of Hemispheric Affairs 2011).

In Mexico during the 1970s throughout the 1980s, the Mexican youths were radicalized and these were sparked by a 1968 massacre of students. The radicalized youths consequently contributed to the protest cycles through the seventies and the eighties. The non-violent movements and counter movements in the cycle were instrumental in pushing for significant policy changes, concessions by the government and structural reforms despite the country’s closed and repressive tendencies. The leaders of the movement eventually formed two opposition parties that weaken the regime of the day in an election that followed the uprising. Through the students did not get what they initially wanted their movements contributed to tremendous democratic reforms far much more than they had sought. Mexico is a very good example that shows that legislative and structural reforms can be realized even in seemingly impossible odds by social movements (Trevizo 2011).

The PRI began to lose its grip on the country in the early 2000s due to civil movements that were formed in response to the country’s economic woes. This includes a formation of national women institute that was responsible for promoting gender equity in 2001. There was also the formation of a federal institute for transparency and access to information in 2002. The institute was tasked with enforcing the countries laws of freedom of information and the granting of requests from members of the public. These civil rights movements called for a stable rule of law and democratic processes that were legitimate. This culminated in the integration of democratic practices and processes in the Mexican government some of which are quite visible today (Council of Hemispheric Affairs 2011).

Democratic Transition

Mexico democratic transition began with several failed revolutions against the PRI government. Many attempts at revolution and resistance had been quashed by the government of the day. They failed since most of them were not well organized with clear goals. However, rural communities eventually rose up to demand land and property rights, and effective democracy. This included inter alia ecological autonomy and participation in the sovereignty of their country. During this period, the president was usually a handpicked successor by the previous predecessor. The common Mexicans did not have any say as to who becomes president as they did not participate in electing the same. The uprising called itself the Zapatistas and highlighted the exploitation and injustice that were experienced in Mexico in the rural areas and this captured the attention of urban Mexicans and the entire world. The uprising accelerated and shaped the transition to electoral governance (Servin, Reina & Tutino 2007).

The Zapatistas proposed democracy based on the idea of “command obedience” which was a relationship between the governed and those who govern participated as political actors and in making proposals and keep those in power in check to ensure citizens needs are fulfilled. The movement became a protagonist of the anti-free trade struggle opening limited democratic discourses by the Mexican civil society. The movement became a catalyst for the promotion of democracy, justice, and freedom (Estévez 2008). The Zapatistas were of the idea that democracy not only involved participation in an election by common citizens but it also entails a partnership between the governed and the governing. Here those in authority had to listen to the needs of those they represent together with their proposal for development, which can be incorporated in the decision-making process of the government.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was an element that was important in Mexico’s democratic transition even though it was vehemently opposed in some quarters of the political establishment in the country. Towards the end of the 1980s, Mexico began to experience political democracy and economic liberation. Thus economic liberation and reforms were responsible for triggering democracy. The opening up and adoption of market-friendly policies were among the economic structural reforms embarked on by the country (Steffan 2007).

The 1988 election presented a new challenge for the ruling party and its president Carlos Salinas. This is because the party lost a two-thirds majority in the chambers of deputies and the president won by slightly over 50 percent votes. Upon taking office, Salinas’s administration responded to the political climate changes by rallying the ruling party behind him in support of a free trade economy and neoliberal program. To regain the public’s confidence he implemented new reforms that targeted the poor and marginalized in the country (Steffan 2007). This is how the ruling party managed to consolidate power but democracy was an idea whose time had come and it was ripe in Mexico. From here onwards, the ruling party slowly lost its grip on power.

After Salina president, Zedilo succeeded the Mexican presidency. He brought major economic reforms that in turn affected the political landscape in the country. NAFTA was a key player in this as it imposed restrictions and allowed for the scrutiny of the country by the international community and this promoted new political freedoms in the country. Significant political developments after the signing and ratification of the NAFTA trade agreement by Mexico included the decline in presidential authority that allowed authoritarian rule in the country. The tradition of handpicking a presidential successor was done away with paving was for a more participative process through elections creating competitive politics. The powers of the office of the president were reduced from an absolute demagogue office to a seat that can be scrutinized and held accountable for its action (Steffan 2007).

The rise of Vicente Fox to the Mexican presidency in 2000 marked the culmination of democracy for a country that had experienced a one-party rule for seventy years. Mexico experienced unprecedented changes in the political climate like openness and transparency influenced by major reforms and the idea of good governance. In 2001, the new government publishes six presidential agendas in a bid to promote democracy. These included promotion of honest, transparent and digital government. The important gain of this government was the passage of the transparency and public information access law that guaranteed access to public information produced by the federal government to promote and strengthen a democratic culture and practice in Mexico (Aroon 2011).

The law also pushed for adoption of new technologies and in particular the internet. This was to make it easy for citizens from the comfort of their homes to exercise their democratic right of access to information. This implies the interest of making citizens the focus of the government activity (Aroon 2011). This move curtailed the long processes and procedural technicalities that hindered citizens from acquiring public information by the government. It also decongested government institutions that offered public services as e-government promptly deals with a majority of services required by the public i.e. passport application.

The things that can be said to be successful about the democratic transition in Mexico is that the field for multiparty was opened and new political actors entered the arena. Policymaking was decentralized to local levels to cater for the needs of local people in a given region. There were major economic adjustments that eventually facilitated the change of democratic standards and practices. The failure of the transition resulted in challenges in economic policy formation at the national level since some form of policymaking is decentralized. This is because regional governors resorted to threats and violence to maintain their authority. This reflects the previous autocratic regime that ruled the country for seventy years but on a local level. The transition has created new demands in responsibility, accountability since public participation is encouraged, and those in power are held responsible and accountable for their actions while in office (Steffan 2007).

The current status of democracy

Today Mexico is considered a moderately successful democracy. Its current political system is a result is political liberation from a one-party state that dominated the country in the twentieth century. However, the democracy is unconsolidated, as corruption remains rampant in all government sectors and above all in the judiciary and the police in the country (Barrington 2009). Corruption is an impediment for the realization of full democracy in any country, as it will always make the country that is waking towards democracy to take a step behind after two steps forward in their journey.

Mexico’s political class is more sensitive to the growing demand of voters and in spite the improved quality of the electoral procedure and practices, democracy is still overshadowed by unions and interest groups. The government faces increased public pressure to support daring legislative initiatives that are meant to promote democratic governance. Some of these legislations include introducing a runoff election for presidential candidates if there is when none of the candidates has attained the required majority. The reelection of the legislature, which is prohibited as the legislative members, can only hold office for one term. Reduction of campaign costs, public financing of parties and participation of independent candidates in elections (Barrington 2009).

The major three parties in the country compete in clean and transparent elections ensuring the fulfillment of every democratic electoral requisite. However, the country’s formal and informal rule still affects transparency and accountability since they are limited. For instance, there is a prohibition for reelection for any government official leaving a small window for the fulfillment of campaign promises (Council on Foreign Relations 2011).

Weak democratic governance and accountability facilitate corruption and this encourages impunity eroding the credibility of government institutions. A survey on Latin American countries attitudes towards democracy found that Mexico registered the lowest support level in terms of democracy in the region (Council on Foreign Relations 2011).

Mexico is ranked among the countries that are the most dangerous for the press globally due to the prevalent assassinations and threats directed toward journalists. More than a dozen journalists have been killed while working in Mexico since President Enrique Pena Neito was elected. It is alleged that many of this cases involved government officials who participated in the assassinations directly. In addition, there is an increased government censorship of the media and the existence of exclusion lists that bar independent journalists from radio and television because of their anti-government sentiments (Ackerman 2016). This indicates that the country’s democracy had only been duly realized in terms of elections and the participation of the electorate in choosing their representatives in government. However, on matters such as the free press, the country has a long way to go to realized democracy in this area.

There is an increased number of political prisoners and arbitrary detention of activists in the country. Freedom of assembly is also under systemic attacks. Teachers who have protested for academic reforms have also been arrested. At rallies and demonstrations, students are targeted and detained arbitrarily. All these factors taint the so revered democratic milestones that Mexico has made as a country (Ackerman 2016). It is understood that democracy does not involve the electoral process only but also freedoms and rights in expression, assembly and championing for the badly needed changes in the government institutions, for instance, the academic curriculum in Mexico.

Potential for effective democracy

Petitioning and contacting government officials in a way that sends a clear message to them about needs and opinion of the citizenry are good ways of promoting effective democracy. Individuals can employ these methods to help in an effective democratic process in Mexico. The actions can be multiplied to increase pressure on policy-makers. The poor communities can employ these methods to counter class biases in the electoral process, as they are powerful methods. In Mexico, petitioning a party and government officials is among the common forms of public participation in the government by the poor population. However, petitioning among the poor has declined since the democratic transition, as they are less frequent than before (Holzner 2010).

Protests and strikes are also ways in which the poor can participate in the democratic process informally since they have little access to government officials most of the time. However, a majority of Mexico’s poor population see this as the last resort where all the other avenues have been exhausted. This is rooted in the understanding of the risks and unlikelihood of success that comes with protest. Mexico’s has a centralized policy-making system such that any protest will have to target the highest level of the government institution for a long period for it to be fruitful (Holzner 2010).

Information and communication technologies are also a potential for effective democracy in Mexico. This is because they improve the efficiency and quality of public service together with increased confidence in the public institution by the people. The internet has great potential of extended public service generating greater public involvement in public affairs matters. However, as much as e-government is a tool of transparency and access of information by the public it is not without flaws. To strengthen the aspect of public information other factors other than technology ought to be considered. These include political will and action by the government and policy-makers. Therefore, technology cannot cater to all aspects of the government, as some factors have to be dealt with by the people in government themselves (Aroon 2011).

Effective democratic representation ought to be embedded in the ongoing communications between citizens and their elected representatives over decision-making and priorities. This is a two-way information flow about the preference of citizens and the decision and actions of those in authority. Consequently, it is vital to look at the links that bring the electorate and the government together in a democracy in order to understand the factor that supports and those that undermine democracy (Selee 2011).

Analysis of democratic consolidation/challenges to consolidation

In Mexico voting and campaigning, the affluent are likely to participate in campaign activities as twice as the poor and therefore more likely to donate money to campaigns. In this sense, potential inequality of voices is created. This is because it will eventually result in the production of candidates that are less accountable and responsive to the poor. The poor have little say in policy-making unless they look for other alternatives to participate in the political process in ways that send a clear message to the ruling class about their plight and putting more pressure on them between elections (Holzner 2010).

In carrying out protests to promote democracy in Mexico, the rich are twice more likely to succeed in a protest than the poor due to the risks and costs involved. The rich are better able and effectively bear and cover the costs of protest since they have resources for that. Therefore, they have high chances of putting pressure on the state than the poor. The poor on the other hand will utilize this avenue as the last resort when others have been exhausted. This is because the risks and cost involved are too much for them to bear (Holzner 2010). For instance, a protest may last for months with many casualties but no progress will have been made in terms of what the citizens were protesting for and more so if they are poor. The rich tend to influence the government because of their economic capabilities and the tax revenue the government draws from them.

The rule of law in Mexico is still weak especially at institutional levels and this is in spite of the strides made in the county’s democratic development. The current status of the police and criminal justice in relation to their political domain illustrate the challenges facing the country. The democratic quality of a country is dependent the levels of interaction and function between the government and its intermediary institutions (Uildriks 2010). The process, practices, and procedures of democracy are well kept in Mexico. However, these have not spread to all government sectors, as some have remained the same since the democratic transition. Other government institutions need democratization too.

Transition democracy resulted in an equilibrium shift by decentralization of government spending. This has empowered state governor politically reproducing the anti-democratic behavior displayed at the national level before the democratization of the nation. (Negroponte 2013). The democratic decentralization of government spending has also promoted autocratic tendencies within local leaders who now employ these resources to projects of their choosing some, which are personal like holiday homes. This also gives them the power to use threat and violence to maintain their power.

The authoritarian legacy of the IRP has prevented the country from developing an efficient and independent court system. This has resulted in low investments since investors cannot rely on speedy and impartial law enforcement of property rights and contracts. This also makes criminal prosecution in the country ineffective (Bruhn 2009). Mexico’s court system is one of the most corrupt government institutions in the country. Therefore, the very tenets of justice, impartiality and the rule of law are blurry for a system that can be easily swayed.


In conclusion, it is proper to say that in some respects Mexico is a democracy. In terms of openness, transparency, and access to information, the country has made strides in comparison to the era of the autocratic regime that was ousted from power in 2000. However, the openness, transparency, and access to information are limited as they cannot be a government in the world the fully discloses its entire operations.

This, for instance, is in matters of security like terror threats and planned attacks that have been quietly averted by the government. In this case, there is no need to cause panic over something that has already been taken care off unless the operations are declassified. However, the country’s formal and informal rule still affects transparency and accountability since they are limited. This includes the prohibition for reelection of government official that leaves a small window for fulfillment of campaign promises

In terms of the public participation in the electoral process, free and fair election strides have been made. The dominant parties ensure that all election laws, processes, and procedures are adhered to accordingly. The major three parties in the country compete in clean and transparent elections ensuring the fulfillment of every democratic electoral requisite enshrined in their laws. The public also participates in choosing all their representatives in the government even the president. This is different from when the president was handpicked during the seventy-year one-party authoritarian rule to succeed their predecessors.

As much as democratic strides have been made in many respects, some areas still need reform. These include the free press, freedom of assembly and demonstrations. The recent assignations of journalist witnessed in the country especially during President Pena Nieto’s administration are a telltale sign that democracy still needs to be realized in some areas. Freedom of expression and demonstrations are essential in any democracy as they are ways in which individuals highlight their needs and push for reforms to be undertaken by the government.

Mexico’s democracy is not complete and comprehensive. This is because of the presence of Weak democratic governance and accountability that facilitate corruption in the country. This encourages impunity and erodes the credibility of government institutions in place. Therefore, in some ways, the country’s democracy is still in transition, as complete democracy has not been attained. The only area in which the democratic transition has properly taken root is in the electoral process.


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