Cablegate: Ife Reforms Take Hold


DE RUEHME #0608/01 0602036
R 292036Z FEB 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY. Electoral reform legislation adopted last September
included a provision requiring Congress to replace three of the
Federal Electoral Institute's (IFE) members by December. Congress,
however, proved unable to forge consensus around three candidates
until February when it agreed to appoint each of the candidates
nominated by the three major political parties represented in the
Mexican Congress. Although PRD's candidate Leonardo Valdz Zurita
was named IFE President, PRD leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
(AMLO) rejected the naming of the three as a significant advance.
Valdez already caused a minor stir with his decision to look into
some 262,000 claims of campaign violations relating to the 2006
presidential elections. Mid-term elections for the Chamber of
Deputies scheduled for 2009 should prove its first noteworthy test.
End Summary.

--------------------------------------------- --
Recasting the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE)
--------------------------------------------- --
2. The Mexican Congress passed electoral reform legislation last
September. Its most important provisions included the following:

- No private funding allowed for airtime on television or radio.

- Public spending limits for presidential elections cut in half.

- Political campaigns limited to three months before the vote.

- Negative campaign messages prohibited.

- A new position of comptroller within IFE created to examine the
bank accounts of the political parties.

- All nine IFE General Council members replaced on a staggered

3. The provision to replace three of the IFE counselors by December
generated some political controversy. PRD's AMLO had charged that
the IFE had demonstrated political bias in ruling he had lost an
extremely close 2006 presidential race. PRD had made electoral
reform a priority as a concession from the Calderon administration
in exchange for supporting fiscal reform. Historically, IFE has
proved one of the Mexican government's more respectable, independent
institutions. Some within Calderon's PAN party objected to agreeing
to change its membership out of concern this would overly politicize
the institution. Ultimately, however, PAN agreed to give Congress
the authority to appoint nine new counselors to IFE over the next
two years.

4. Congress was not able to forge consensus on the first three new
appointees to the IFE by the December 13 deadline it had set for
itself. However, lengthy negotiations finally produced agreement
February 07, to appoint the nominee of each of three major political
parties represented in the Mexican Congress. The three appointed by
Congress include:

- Leonardo Valdz Zurita - Appointed to be IFE President with his
term expiring October 2013. Valdez, nominated by PRD, is regarded
as an expert on political and election issues. The founder of a
Center focused on electoral procedures, a member of the Specialized
Group on Electoral Studies at the Mexican Council of Social
Sciences, and the former Executive Director of the IFE's Electoral
Organization, Valdez is also a former counselor of Mexico City's
Electoral Institute (IEDF). Valdez taught at el Colegio de Mexico
and UAM and worked most as an investigator for the University of
Guanajuato. He is an economist by profession and holds a PhD on
Social Sciences from el Colegio de Mexico.

- Benito Nacif Hernndez - Appointed to be an IFE Counselor with his
term expiring October 2016. Nominated by PAN, Nacif is regarded as
an expert on congressional relations with the executive branch,
political parties, and electoral systems.

He served prior as a coordinator of a legislative project focusing
on transparency in the Congress and also as Director of the
Political Studies Division at CIDE (Center of Research and Economic
Studies - Centro de Investigacisn y Docencias Econsmicas). He has
authored several books including Understanding the Political
Institutions and Understanding the Mexican Legislative Power. Nacif
is a public administrator by profession. He received his under
graduate degree from El Colegio de Mexico and holds a PhD in
Political Sciences from the Oxford University.

- Marco Antonio Baos - Appointed to be an IFE Counselor with his
term expiring October 2016. Nominated by PRI, Baos is the founder
of a consultancy company, DEMOS S.C, on electoral procedures. Baos
served as Head of the Department of Political Studies at the
Interior Secretariat (SEGOB) and taught at UNAM, ITAM and UNAP
Universities. He also was one of founders of the electoral body
that preceded IFE. A lawyer by profession, he received his degree
from UNAM.

Valdez Already Stirring Some Controversy

5. Only several days into his job as IFE President, Valdez
announced February 21, that he plans to look into the some 262,000
claims of improper media spots tracing back to the 2006 presidential
campaign. He has also promised to rule on the disposition of the
ballots from the 2006 elections which are currently occupying
significant space in IFE offices. In September 2006, IFE
acknowledged noteworthy media abuses during the 2006 electoral
campaigned but ruled Calderon the legitimate winner notwithstanding.
It is not entirely clear what Valdez intends to accomplish by
reopening this controversial subject.

6. Comment: Congress agreed to turn over membership to the IFE and
appoint PRD's candidate as IFE President as part of an effort to
appease PRD claims of bias tracing back to the 2006 elections.
Nevertheless, PRD leader AMLO has rejected all three of the new
appointees claiming that each is linked to either the PAN or PRI.
Valdez's new look at charges of improper media spots relating to the
2006 elections may generate some controversy but should not call
into the ultimate results of that election or challenge Calderon's
legitimacy. Mid-term elections to the Mexican Chamber of Deputies
scheduled for July 2009, on the other hand, should prove the first
noteworthy test of the new IFE's integrity in adjudicating Mexican
election races. End comment.


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