Diana Murray Watts and Eric L. Olson, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 4/08/2012
On Monday, March 26th, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) issued an ultimatum to Mexico’s political parties and coalitions: they would have 48 hours to comply with an electoral law requiring 40% of the each party’s Congressional slate to be made up of women candidates. If a party did not meet the requirement, the IFE announced that it could prohibit the party from running any candidates in the general elections.
The ultimatum arose from announcements made a week earlier by PAN and PVEM party officials that neither would be able to comply with the gender quota in the upcoming election. The PRI issued a similar but more direct challenge to the validity of the law, arguing that women either did not express interest in competing for many positions during the party’s primary elections, or they were won fairly by male candidates. Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, leader of the PRI, even threatened to take the case directly to the Federal Election Tribunal (TRIFE) to dispute the legislation.
The issue of gender equality in Mexican elections is not new; the current laws stem from a UN protocol issued by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), signed by Mexico in 1982 to establish general principles for women’s inclusion in politics. It was not until the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, that Mexico enacted formal laws and quotas to ensure parties included enough women candidates in primary elections.
Despite the laws, however, true gender equality in politics remains elusive. Parties have resorted to tactics such as nominating spouses or girlfriends of party officials – commonly known as “Juanitas” – who register their husbands or boyfriends as backup candidates (suplentes, in Spanish), only to later resign and pass the reins over to their male counterparts. A suplente, or substitute, is a legally recognized position filled by someone who can take the position of the elected official if he/she becomes incapacitated or must resign for some reason. In other cases, party officials argue that the primary vote should supersede the gender quota provisions in the law.
With the presidential election looming, it seems that no party wants to take unnecessary risks this late in the game. Given the weight of the IFE’s ultimatum, both PAN and PRI have conceded and have agreed to meet the gender requirements for their candidate slates. As for the PRD, party president Jesús Zambrano declared that electoral lists were adjusted to comply with IFE’s regulation by replacing 28 male candidates with women for the Chamber of Deputies. Zambrano went on to state that their list of candidacies for the Senate had been ready with a 60 to 40 male to female ratio.
In a year marking the first presidential candidacy of a woman backed by a major political party, the issue of gender in elections is front and center. The actions of the IFE to ensure compliance with the equality law suggest that there is still a long way to go before parties – and perhaps the Mexican public as a whole – view women’s participation in politics as something to be taken seriously.