MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Felipe Calderon proposed a package of electoral reforms on Tuesday that would allow most politicians to seek fresh terms and institute a second round of voting in presidential elections.
The proposal, which overturns a decades-old constitutional prohibition on politicians seeking re-election, is designed to tackle Mexicans’ disillusionment with their political system, Calderon said.
“Citizens should be those who reward a good performance and who punish an irresponsible or careless use of power. The idea is to give more power to the citizens, to enhance their ability to determine the course of public life and thus strengthen our democracy,” Calderon said at the presidential palace.
The divisive issue of re-election may prove too much for Mexicans to swallow, however. A vicious civil war at the turn of the century ended with the prohibition on presidential re-election being enshrined in the constitution.
The ban was extended to all politicians in the 1930s and many Mexicans today view it as one of the few restraints over corrupt politicians.
“Re-election is tricky. It flies in the face of an historical standard but I think things like a second round in presidential voting are probably timely,” said Mexico City-based pollster Dan Lund, who believes Calderon’s current unpopularity will hurt his chances of getting the complete package of reforms passed.
Despite the ban on re-election, powerful politicians in many parts of the country exercise strong control over local politics due to their having the final say on who becomes the party candidate.
“The prohibition on re-election has become an instrument of political control of the party bosses that runs against the interests of the people,” said Fernando Dworak, a researcher who has examined the theme.
“It has created a political system where representatives are not accountable and are subject to the will of their parties.”
Under the reform, legislators in the lower house could seek up to four three-year terms in office while senators could stand for a second six-year term, which Dworak said would gradually curb the influence of party bosses.
Calderon also wants to reduce the number of seats in Congress, cutting the lower house by 20 percent to 400 members and the senate by a quarter to 96.
The president would also be able to force Congress to consider and vote on two major proposals once every three years and voters could send laws to Congress for debate using referendums.
The initiative calls for a second round of voting in presidential elections if none of the candidates reach an absolute majority during the first round.
The presidential term would remain fixed at a single period of six years with no second term possible.
Calderon was elected in 2006 with less than a majority of the vote and his triumph was marred by accusations of fraud after his wafer-thin victory against a leftist rival.
His party was defeated in mid-term congressional elections this year as voters punished the conservatives for a painful recession and escalating drug gang violence.
Calderon’s proposed overhaul would also allow candidates unaffiliated with political parties to run for office and make it harder for very small parties to receive public funding.
Congress will debate the proposal in the new year.
Editing by Cynthia Osterman