An effective rule of law is essential for a stable democracy. The Rule of Law is summarized as a “durable system of laws, institutions, norms, and community commitment”. Laws should be publicly declared, enforced, independently adjudicated and are consistent with international human rights principles.
The Rule of Law maintains a democracy’s legitimacy. The four universal principles of the Rule of Law help to establish trust in the government. This trust allows citizens to legitimize the government by believing a democracy to be the most effective form of government. The four universal principles are accountability, just law, open government, and accessibility to impartial justice.The World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index is organized by primary factors. These factors help to evaluate the effectiveness of the Rule of Law in countries. The factors include constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil justice, and criminal justice. When a democratic country follows all four universal principles and succeeds in the eight primary factors, democracy in that country is well protected.
The rule of law is an essential democratic institution that promotes efficacy and efficiency in government. The absence of the rule of law results in the decrease of a democracy’s legitimacy. This causes democracy to be viewed as an ineffective and untrustworthy form of government. Thus, the delegitimization will prompt people to support alternative forms of government. Or in the case of Mexico, allow for the rise of populists and constitutional retrogression. In the last four years, Mexico’s rule of law has been weakened further. In particular, the primary factor of constraints on government powers has been targeted by the current political party power.
Latin America’s latest wave of democratization occurred in the late 1980s and 1990s. Like countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America democratized as the Cold War ended. Without the burden of international pressures and the discontent toward political regimes in the region, Latin Americans were emboldened to overthrow the juntas (and other authoritarian regimes) in favor of electoral democracies. This was the case in 2000, when Mexico transformed from a seven decade long, single party rule to an electoral democracy. Mexico is a fledgling country and has experienced three successes: a pluralistic political system, credible elections, and changes of national leadership.
THE RULE OF LAW AND THE CONSTRAINTS ON GOVERNMENT POWERS
In Mexico’s democratic history, there are four prominent political parties: PAN, PRD, PRI, and now MORENA. Prior to 2000, Mexico was ruled for seven decades by PRI or the Institutional Revolutionary Party. 2000 to 2012, PAN or the National Action Party held presidential power. PRI won the presidential election in 2012 and the president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, served for a six-year term. MORENA, the National Regeneration Movement is a left-leaning political party. MORENA and its candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador or AMLO, won the presidential election in 2018. MORENA would hold a supermajority until the 2021 midterms. Since his victory in 2018, AMLO and his MORENA supporters have been criticized for eroding Mexico’s democracy. AMLO threatens Mexico’s democratic institutions. Crucially, AMLO proposes to get rid of INE’s electoral authority. INE, the National Electoral Institute, oversees supervising elections and enforcing political party laws.
MORENA and AMLO’s critics fear that the proposal would revert Mexico back to a single party rule. The proposal includes the elimination of electoral offices, a decision that would concentrate too much power at the federal level. AMLO targets the rule of law to limit the constraints on government powers. AMLO’s proposal would curtail the powers of state and local governments– thus allowing AMLO and MORENA to hold more power at the federal level.
In April 2021, the Zaldívar law passed as a judicial reform bill. AMLO and MORENA supported this law. One part of the law is an amendment that extends Arturo Zaldívar’s term for two more years. Arturo Zaldívar is the president of the Supreme Court and the president of the Federal Judiciary Council– which is the governing body of the judicial system. Zaldívar has been considered as an ally of AMLO and MORENA. Not only does this law politicize the judicial system, but the law is also unconstitutional. José Miguel Vivanco explains this move as a “direct assault” on Mexico’s rule of law.
The Supreme Court of Mexico has become increasingly less independent because of MORENA’s influence on the presidency and the legislature. The appointment of judges by MORENA legislators and the extension of Zaldívar’s term diminishes judicial independence. Judicial independence is a crucial principle of the rule of law and is connected to the constraints on government powers. The absence of constraints contributes to the rise of alternative governments to gain control of a democracy.
A democracy needs an effective rule of law with all four universal principles. In the case of Mexico and AMLO, democracy is being eroded. This erosion is seen in MORENA’s attack on constraints on government powers, a primary factor for the rule of law. The rule of law, when strong, is an effective institution to legitimize a country’s democracy. The weakening of the rule of law shows AMLO’s threat to erode Mexico’s democracy.