On November 5, 2009, academics and members of civil society from Mexico came before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights to protest an alleged degradation of political rights in their country. Representatives from the Iberian-American Observatory for Democracy, the Center for Analysis and Investigation, and Propuesta Civica presented the petition.

The petitioners alleged that the quality of democracy in Mexico is under attack, likening it to a river that is being slowly polluted now with grave consequences to come. They claim that political parties have become entrenched, corrupt, and unresponsive to the people. In support of this claim, the petitioners cited survey results indicating that seven out of ten people have less faith in political parties now than they did five years ago, and that 42 percent of respondents think that political parties lack any authority to create change in their community.

The petitioners placed much of the blame for these problems on the constitutional and electoral reforms of 2007 and on the political parties themselves. As a result of the reforms, it is now very difficult to form a new political party in Mexico. Formation requires thousands of signatures from across all of Mexico’s states, and new parties may only be created once every six years. Union members are prohibited from forming their own parties. Further compounding this problem is the entrenched and corrupt nature of existing political parties. The Green Party, for example, has been accused of avoiding gender equality mandates by nominating women to Parliament but then having them immediately resign upon election to be replaced by men. Also, the billions of dollars spent on public financing of political parties is largely unaccounted for, which contributes to the corruption and unresponsiveness of Mexico’s political parties.

Mexico responded by reminding the Commission how far the country has come. Twenty years ago there was only one political party in the country; now there are many. The government also pointed to the establishment of independent electoral tribunals to protect the rights of citizens as proof that it has made strides to improve civic participation and access to information. One million citizens were trained to be ballot counters in the July 2009 mid-term elections, and real-time election results were available online and on local television. Mexico is aware of the criticisms the petitioners allege about political rights, and as part of a process to improve responsiveness to these issues, has established mechanisms to allow citizens to file formal complaints about electoral practices. Over 24,000 complaints have been filed since 1996, proof, Mexico says, that citizens have a voice in the political process.

After both parties had given their arguments, the commissioners posed questions about possible electoral reforms and inquired into the truth behind allegations that union members are prohibited from forming their own political parties. The question that generated the most discussion was posed by Mr. Crozza, who asked how the allegations of the petitioners could be broken down into issues of individual rights that the Commission can address. In trying to formulate an answer, both sides agreed that the improvement of democratic processes is the next frontier for Mexico and is an area where the petitioners, the Commission, and Mexico can provide input and suggest improvements.

With this common goal in mind, both sides agreed that the importance of the hearing was to ensure that progress toward a more democratic society continues. While Mexico disagrees with the allegations raised, they did acknowledge that there is always room for improvement. To that end, they agreed with the petitioners that having the hearing was an important step in disseminating information about the state of political rights in Mexico and in maintaining a robust, open dialogue.

The commissioners expressed their gratitude for the exhaustively researched report detailing the petitioners’ allegations. They promised that it would be reviewed and taken under consideration but did not set a time frame for further work on this issue. Moving forward, both Mexico and the petitioners agreed to continue their dialogue and to work to improve citizen participation and openness in the Mexican political system.