The political system that guaranteed more than 7 decades of political stability in Mexico has been called the "Perfect Dictatorship"
by Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. Members of the two chambers of the Mexican parliament are not allowed to seek reelection immediately after their first term in office, and for the president, reelection is prohibited by law. In 1934, the Mexican constitution was changed to provide for the Sexenio, one of Mexico's most important political institutions. It is the term limit on the Mexican Presidency, which limits the office holder to one six-year term. It is important because it is one of the few limitations on executive power in Mexico, which is strong at Local, State, and National levels. Without the Sexenio, Mexico would most likely not be considered a democracy since one party elected most presidents during the 20th Century.
The presidency is the paramount institution, not only of the Mexican state, but of the entire Mexican political system. Critics have pejoratively labeled the presidency the "six-year monarchy" because of the seemingly unchecked power that historically has resided in the office. Much of the aura of presidential power derives from the president's direct and unchallenged control over both the state apparatus and the ruling political party, the PRI.
Presidents are directly elected by a simple majority of registered voters in the thirty-one states and the Federal District. The president holds the formal titles of chief of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces. Presidential candidates must be at least thirty-five years old on election day and must be not only Mexican citizens by birth but also the offspring of Mexican citizens by birth (this clause was amended in 1994 to make the children of naturalized citizens eligible for the presidency, effective in 1999). To be eligible for the presidency, a candidate must reside legally in Mexico during the year preceding the election. The candidate cannot have held a cabinet post or a governorship, nor have been on active military duty during the six months prior to the election. Priests and ministers of religious denominations are barred from holding public office.
The presidential term of six years, commonly known as the sexenio, has determined the cyclical character of Mexican politics since the late 1930s. A president can never be reelected, and there is no vice president. If the presidential office falls vacant during the first two years of a sexenio , the congress designates an interim president, who, in turn, must call a special presidential election to complete the term. If the vacancy occurs during the latter four years of a sexenio , the congress designates a provisional president for the remainder of the term.
In addition to the president's prerogatives in legislative matters, he or she may freely appoint and dismiss cabinet officials and almost all employees of the executive branch. Subject to traditionally routine ratification by the Senate, the president appoints ambassadors, consuls general, magistrates of the Supreme Court, and the mayor of the Federal District. The president also appoints the magistrates of the Supreme Court of the Federal District, subject to ratification by the Chamber of Deputies. Presidential appointment authority also extends downward through the federal bureaucracy to a wide assortment of midlevel offices in the secretariats, other cabinet-level agencies, semiautonomous agencies, and parastatal (see Glossary) enterprises. This extensive appointment authority provides a formidable source of patronage for incoming administrations and has been an important factor in ensuring the regular, orderly turnover in office of competing elite factions within the official party.
Despite the nominally federal character of the Mexican state, presidents have historically played a decisive role in the selection and removal of state governors, all of whom, until 1991, were members of the PRI. President Salinas was particularly assertive in bringing about the resignations of PRI governors widely believed to have been elected through blatant fraud. In some cases, Salinas annuled the election and appointed the opposition candidate governor.
The president confers broad powers on cabinet secretaries, although the cabinet rarely meets as a single body. There is a hierarchy of influence among the different cabinet posts, and the power of a minister or secretary varies, depending on the priorities set by a particular president as well as the resources available at the time. Traditionally, the secretary of interior has been an influential figure and often has been chosen to succeed the president. During the José López Portillo y Pachecho sexenio (1976-82), the Secretariat of Programming and Budget (Secretaría de Programación y Presupuesto--SPP) was reorganized to coordinate all government agencies, supervise the budget, and design the national development program. Until its merger with the Secretariat of Finance and Public Credit (Secretaría de Hacienda y Crédito Público) in 1992, the SPP was extremely influential, becoming the launching point for the presidencies of de la Madrid and Salinas.
In 1994, President Salinas broke with the pattern of selecting SPP economists by designating the Secretary of Social Development, Luis Donaldo Colosio Murrieta, as the PRI presidential nominee. This departure from the established practice of nominating ministers with economic portfolios appeared to reflect a reemergence of a social welfare agenda within the PRI after years of orthodox economic policies. When Colosio was assassinated during the presidential campaign, Salinas returned to the fold by selecting Zedillo, a former education and SPP secretary who was then serving as Colosio's campaign manager, to replace the fallen candidate.
One of the unique features of the Mexican presidency has been the highly secretive and mysterious process of presidential succession. Since the 1930s, Mexico's PRI presidents have enjoyed the right to personally name their successor, a privilege known as the dedazo (tap). The prerogative of choosing one's successor has allowed outgoing presidents to select individuals who embody either change or continuity with past policies, as demanded by circumstances and public opinion. Over the years, the skillful selection of a successor to the president has become an important element of the adaptability that has characterized the PRI-dominated system.
During the last two years of a sexenio , a president selects a short list of candidates for the PRI nomination from among an inner circle within the cabinet. Before announcing the nominee, an event known as the destape (unveiling), a president gauges public opinion of the candidates. The destape has been criticized for being undemocratic and anachronistic in the age of mass communications.
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