Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Mexico’s political rights rating declined from 2 to 3 and its status from Free to Partly Free due to the targeting of local officials by organized crime groups and the government’s inability to protect citizens’ rights in the face of criminal violence.
Violence between security forces and organized criminal groups, and among the criminal groups themselves, reached unprecedented levels in 2010. Over 15,000 people were killed as the syndicates fought over territory, continued an expansion into new criminal activities, and sought to coerce officials and corrode state institutions. The government maintained troop deployments in the regions most affected by violence even as allegations of rights abuses by the military increased. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won six of the year’s nine state gubernatorial races, but alliances between the ruling center-right National Action Party and the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution succeeded in defeating the PRI in three of its traditional strongholds.
Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1810 and became a republic in 1822. Seven years after the Revolution of 1910, a new constitution established the United Mexican States as a federal republic. From its founding in 1929 until 2000, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) dominated the country through patronage, corruption, and repression. The formal business of government often took place in secret, and the rule of law was frequently compromised by arbitrary power.
In the landmark 2000 presidential election, Vicente Fox Quesada of the National Action Party (PAN) defeated the candidates of the PRI and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), capturing 42.5 percent of the vote. By 2003, Fox’s greatest achievements remained his defeat of the long-ruling PRI, providing for more open and accountable government, and arresting some leaders of the country’s vicious drug-trafficking groups. However, solutions to the problems of poverty, corruption, crime, and unemployment proved elusive. Elections held in July 2003 confirmed the PRI as the most powerful party in Congress and in many state governments.
In the 2006 presidential election, PAN candidate Felipe Calderóndefeated Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD by a mere 244,000 votes in the initial count. López Obrador rejected the result and for several months led protests that paralyzed parts of Mexico City, but many Mexicans—and most international observers—were not convinced by the PRD’s evidence of fraud. In September, after a partial recount, the Federal Electoral Tribunal formally declared Calderón the winner. Though the PAN won the most seats in the congressional elections, the PRD’s share of deputies exceeded the PRI’s for the first time.
In 2007, Calderón managed to forge coalitions with opposition lawmakers to pass modest pension, tax, electoral, and judicial reforms, but political wrangling increased in 2008 due to an attempted reform of the petroleum sector and the approach of the 2009 congressional elections. The PRI emerged from the July 2009 balloting with control of the Chamber of Deputies, taking 237 seats and forming a majority with the 21 seats of the allied Green Party. The PAN’s share fell to 143 seats, and the PRD declined to a distant third, with 71. For a third straight year, the PRI outperformed its rivals in state and local elections, which were held in six states in 2009. Balloting was held in nine states in 2010, with PRI candidates winning the gubernatorial contests in six. Nonetheless, alliances between the PAN and the PRD led to the election of non-PRI governors in Oaxaca, Sinaloa, and Puebla for the first time in decades.
Intermittent talks among the three major parties in 2010 failed to yield progress on a major political reform proposed by Calderón in December 2009. The package would, among other changes, allow limited reelection for many elected officials, permit candidates to run as independents, provide for a second round of voting in presidential elections, reduce the size of Congress, and grant the president a line-item veto on budget bills.
Also in 2010, more than 15,000 people were killed in violence associated with major drug-trafficking syndicates, which has increased each year since 2006 and has become the dominant concern in Mexican politics. This precipitous rise occurred despite Calderón’s decision to deploy the military to the worst-affected areas soon after taking office. While a majority of Mexicans continued to support the government’s offensive against organized crime, opinion polls also registered skepticism about official claims that the campaign was making progress. In addition, mounting allegations of severe human rights violations have surrounded the security operations conducted by more than 45,000 soldiers in various parts of Mexico.
Mexico is an electoral democracy. The president is elected to a six-year term and cannot be reelected. The bicameral Congress consists of the 128-member Senate, elected for six years through a mix of direct voting and proportional representation, with at least two parties represented in each state’s delegation, and the 500-member Chamber of Deputies, with 300 elected directly and 200 through proportional representation, all for three-year terms. Members of Congress are also currently barred from reelection. Each state has an elected governor and legislature.