A woman votes inside a polling station during the presidential elections in Mexico City on July 1st, 2012. Susana Gonzalez/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved.
Mexico is going through an economic, political, social and international crisis. We have witnessed the rapid depreciation of our currency, the general increase in prices due to the liberalization of oil prices, and now the uncertainty caused by Donald Trump’s accession to the presidency of the United States. Discontent can be felt in the streets and people are denouncing our representatives’ inability to respond to this situation in the social networks.
Much of the discontent is the result of a crisis of representation of the political system that has been brewing for years. In 2015, the Chilean agency Latinobarómetro published the results of a poll showing that 78% of the respondents were not satisfied with the functioning of democracy in Mexico, while 70% disliked the political parties’ performance at their job. Clearly, Mexican citizens are disappointed with a political class that appears to be only taking care of its private interests, over and above the pressing problems affecting the country.
Recently, reforms in the electoral law have introduced some mechanisms for political participation - such as independent candidacies and citizen-promoted legal initiatives - which favour change in our democratic institutions. This has been achieved through the efforts of civil society in highlighting both the need to reform political parties so as to reclaim their representative purpose, and their present-day characteristic bad practices.
This is why Wikipolítica has launched the #NoVoteNoMoney (#SinVotoNoHayDinero) initiative, the aim of which is to change the incentives the parties have in the current system. Wikipolítica is an organization that seeks to transform the way of doing politics in Mexico, using technology and collaborative processes to put people at the center of decision making and to monitor our leaders. Its guiding principles are innovation and collective creation.
If we are to have better parties and candidates, our proposal is to alter their incentives so as to guide them towards better democratic performance and responsiveness. Under the current system, political parties are financed mainly with public resources – entailing a huge cost to the Treasury. To calculate the amount, you have to multiply 65% of a so-called Unit of Measure and Update (a budgetary concept which is the equivalent of 47 Mexican pesos) by the total number of registered voters. This results in exorbitant amounts of money which are not tied to the level of effective participation at the polls.
In 2017 alone, Mexican parties will pocket 4.059.213.905 pesos (194.245.563 USD) and it is expected that an even larger amount will fund next year's elections. Few would dare to justify this expense, since less and less Mexicans actually go to the polls - in some states, the turnout has reached alarming figures: 25 to 30%. But instead of striving to reverse this trend, parties and candidates keep on incurring in electoral offenses and avoiding the corresponding court-ordered fines and penalties. They have given up formulating convincing proposals and conducting serious debate, to focus on political-electoral business.
#NoVoteNoMoney was born out of discontent with this huge wastefulness. Originally promoted by independent federal representative Manuel Clouthier, this initiative seeks to change the aforementioned formula, to persuade political parties to become more representative, and to encourage citizen participation. The new formula being proposed would use a list of actual voters instead of the current registered voters’ list, which excludes unregistered voters, votes for independent candidates, and null votes. In this way, citizens would benefit from a strengthened vote, for their going to the polls would actually have a direct effect on how the electoral financing budget is allocated and thus, ultimately, on how our democracy is conducted.
Political parties would no longer be able to get away with ignoring the low turnout at elections and the increasing number of null votes, and would be spurred into improving the quality of their proposals and their discourse. While some observers warn that the new system could possibly entail more vote purchasing and levying, it is important to note that citizens casting a protest or punishment vote would have a far greater impact than under the current system. To reach higher levels of citizen participation, parties would have to appeal to currently skeptical or even apathetic voters, and adopt a new strategy consisting in listening to their constituents and incorporating more people into their electoral platforms.
It is hard to think of a more effective and direct participatory mechanism than political parties which – in principle - allow citizens to identify themselves with and organize behind a common ideal or purpose. A democracy without effective parties leaves millions of citizens politically orphaned, excluded from decision-making on issues which directly or indirectly affect their daily lives.
We want people to fall in love again with politics and parties, but only with those among them which show a true devotion to public service. We need cheaper, more efficient, more transparent and horizontal, more professional and inclusive parties, not just money-spending machines. This is why we are saying: If they want our money, let them win our vote!