President of Mexico
The President of United Mexican States is the head of state of Mexico. Under the Constitution, the president is also the head of government and the commander-in-chief of the Mexican army, navy, and air force.
Currently, the office of the president is considered to be revolutionary, in that he is the inheritor of the Mexican Revolution and the powers of office are derived from the Revolutionary Constitution of 1917. Another legacy of the Revolution is its ban on re-election. The constitution and the office of the president closely follow the presidential system of government.
Mexico has had a very difficult history, and has not always enjoyed government by a constitutional president, having other types of heads of state, including dictators and emperors. However, since the end of the Revolution, Mexico has had a presidential system, and since the 1990s, the system has been increasingly democratic.
Requirements to hold office
Chapter III of the Constitution deals with the executive branch of government and establishes the following:
- Supreme Executive Power of the Union is vested in one individual, styled the President of the United Mexican States.
- The election for president will be direct and according to the current Electoral Law.
To be eligible to run for president, the following requirements must be met:
- A Mexican citizen by birth, son of either a Mexican father or mother, and having resided in the country for at least 20 years.
- 35 years old at the time of the election
- Resident in the country for the entire year prior to the election
- Not an official of any church or religious denomination
- Not in active military service during the six months prior to the election.
- Not a secretary or under-secretary of state, attorney general, or governor of a state at least six months prior to the election
- Not having been president already (by election, or other causes).
The President of Mexico serves one six-year term, called a sexenio, and is not eligible for re-election.
Presidential elections have been held every six years since 1934 (the constitution previously provided for a four-year mandate). However, only since the year 1994 have these elections approached an acceptable standard of democratic transparency and cleanliness.
The president is elected by direct, popular, universal suffrage. A simple plurality of all the votes cast in the country decides who becomes president and, unlike many other presidential systems, there is no second round. Current President Vicente Fox was elected with a plurality of 43% of the popular vote, whereas his predecessor Ernesto Zedillo won with a majority of 51%.
As stated above, the History of Mexico has not been a peaceful one. After the fall of dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1910 because of the Mexican Revolution, there was no stable government until all the military generals united in one political party: the Party of the Mexican Revolution, which later changed its name to the National Revolutionary Party, and later to the Party of the Institutional Revolution, or Partido Revolucionario Institucional. In order to avoid chaos, and after 20 years of bloody experience, the now PRI saw it necessary a strict internal discipline and government presence in the country, and electoral fraud became common, partly because of inadequate laws. After the country regained its peace this pattern of fraud continued, with the opposition losing every election until the later part of the 20th century. The first presidential election broadly considered legitimate was the one held in 1994, when PRI's Ernesto Zedillo took office, and in his term several reforms to ensure fairness in elections were made. Partly as a consequence of this reforms the 1997 federal congressional election saw the first opposition Chamber of Deputies ever, and the 2000 elections saw Vicente Fox of a PAN/PVEM alliance become the first opposition candidate to win an election since 1911. This historical defeat was accepted on election night by PRI in the voice of President Zedillo; while this calmed fears of violence, it also fueled questions about the role of the president in the electoral process and to whom the responsibility of conceding defeat should fall in a democratic election.
It is expected that the 2006 elections will also be clean and fair but it seems likely the PAN will lose to either the PRI or PRD.
Since the presidential institution stabilized after the Revolution, the president held almost absolute power over the country, decreasing somewhat into the later years of the 20th century. Held as the most important PRI member, the unwritten rules of the party allowed him to designate party officials and candidates, the latter winning every election usually by electoral fraud. So, he had an important (but not exclusive) influence over the political life of the country (part of his power had to be shared to unions and other groups, but as an individual he had no peers). This, and his constitutional powers, made some political commentators describe the president as a six-year dictator, and to call this system "Imperial Presidency". This power reached its peak around the early 1980s, when a grave economic crisis created discomfort both in the population and inside the party, and the President's power was no longer absolute but still impressive.
An important characteristic of this system (its first example the harsh treatment meted out by new president Lázaro Cárdenas to Plutarco Elías Calles in the 1930s) is that the new president was chosen by the old one (as a candidate with an assured win) but once he assumed power, the old one lost all power and influence (no reelection is a cornerstone of Mexican politics). This renewed command helped mantain party displine and avoided the stagnation associated with a single man holding power for decades, prompting a notable writer to call Mexico's political system "the perfect dictatorship".
With the democratic reforms of recent years and fairer elections, the Constitution has begun to be applied and the President's powers are legally limited. His current powers and rights include the following:
- Supreme executive power to run and administer the country.
- The right to appoint the Attorney General
- The right to appoint the Secretaries of State and all the members of the Mexican Executive Cabinet
- The right to appoint all Mexican Ambassadors
- Supreme power over the army, navy, and air force
- The power to declare war and peace
- The power of negotiating foreign treaties
- The power to issue decrees
- The right to nominate Supreme Court justices
- The power to veto laws (however, as learned with the controversial 2004 budget, not the power to veto decrees from Congress).
A decree is a legislative instrument that has an expiration date and that is issued by one of the three branches of government. Congress may issue decrees, and the President may issue decrees as well. However, they have all the power of laws, but cannot be changed except by the power that issued them. Decrees are very limited in their extent. One such decree is the federal budget, which is issued by congress. The president's office may suggest a budget, but at the end of the day, it is congress that decrees how to collect taxes and how to spend them.
Since 1997, the Congress has been plural, usually with oppossing parties having majority. Major reforms (tax, energy) have to pass by Congress, and the ruling President usually found his efforts blocked: PRI's Zedillo by opossing PAN/PRD congressmen, later PAN's Fox by PRI/PRD. The PAN would push the reforms it denied to the PRI and viceversa. This situation, novel in a country where Congress was +90% dominated by the president's party for most of the century, has led to a legal analysis of the president's power. Formerly almost a dictator (because of PRI's party discipline) the current times show the president's power somewhat limited. In 2004, President Fox threatened to veto the budget approved by Congress, claiming the budget overstepped his authority to lead the country, only to learn no branch of government had the power to veto a decree issued by another branch of government (although a different, non jurisprudence-setting ruling stated he could return the budget with observations).
The President's principal workplace and official residence is Los Pinos located inside the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park). The President has the right to use this residence for the six-year term of office.
The National Palace, a building facing the Mexico City Zócalo, the most important public plaza in the country, is used only for national holidays like Independence Day or Revolution Day. It holds some areas open to the public (as an historic building) and government offices.
Article 84 of the Mexican Constitution states that "in case of absolute absence of a President" any of the following should happen:
- If the absence (death, impeachment, etc.) should occur in the first two years of the term, Congress will decide who is to be Acting President until elections can be held. Congress should also call for elections in no less than 14 months and no more than 18 months after the absence of the President.
- If the absence should occur in the last four years of the term, Congress will select the Acting President, who will become President of the United Mexican States until the end of the term.
Former Presidents of Mexico continue to carry the title "President" until death but are rarely referred by it; they are commonly called ex-Presidents. They are also given protection by the Estado Mayor Presidencial, which is the most elite force of the Mexican Army, and which carries the responsibility of protecting the president, the cabinet, and all former presidents. Former presidents are also given a lifelong pension; however, some Mexican politicians, such as Andrés Manuel López Obrador, are campaigning to end this.
Contrary to what happens in other countries, former presidents of Mexico do not continue to be important national figures once out of office, and usually lead a discreet life. This is partly because they do not want to interfere with the government of the new President (a relic from the times of the "Imperial Presidency", see above) and partly because they usually don't have a good public image.
Some, like Carlos Salinas de Gortari, are profoundly rejected by the Mexican public. Ernesto Zedillo holds important offices in the United Nations and in the private sector, but outside of Mexico. It is speculated he lives in a self-imposed exile to avoid the hatred of some of his fellow members inside the PRI for accepting too quickly their defeat in the 2000 presidential election, a defeat for which he is partly responsible as the topmost PRI member and President.
Previous Presidents live in Mexico, sometimes having posts with no political power and far from the spotlight (ex-President De la Madrid was head of the Fondo de Cultura Económica, a prestigoius government publishing house for academic books).
List of living former presidents
Former President José López Portillo died in 2004.
List of Presidents of Mexico
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