Henry Romero / Reuters Demonstrators hold up posters in a protest march demanding to know the whereabout of high school student Marco Antonio Sanchez, who disappeared several days ago after a dispute with police officers, Mexico City, Mexico, January 28, 2018.

What Ails Mexican Democracy

Too Much Hope, Too Little Change

Millions of Mexican citizens will go to the polls on July 1 to elect a new president, just as they have done, like clockwork, every six years since 1934. If experience is any guide, the election will proceed without incident: polls will open on time, observers will pronounce the voting to have been “free and fair,” and the losers will congratulate the winner, even if they also pledge to “continue the fight.” But all is not well with Mexican democracy. Public support for democratic institutions is low, and faith in the democratic process is waning. The current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, has logged some of the worst public approval ratings ever recorded in Mexico—as low as 12 percent, according to one poll from January 2017. His administration is widely blamed for failing to solve Mexico’s most vexing problems: civil-war-like levels of violence, high crime rates, blatant corruption and impunity at the highest levels of government, a continuously impoverished countryside, and a long-term failure to extend the provision of public goods across the whole of Mexican territory. 

What is to be done?

If Mexicans seek a solution to their country’s current political ills from among this year’s crop of presidential candidates, they are looking in the wrong place. The truth is that electoral competition is not the solution to most of the problems that beset Mexico and other Latin American democracies. In fact, it is likely that much of the democratic malaise in the region results from an undue focus on presidential elections and the campaigns that precede them. 

A quick review of the facts related to crime and impunity help to illustrate why so many Mexicans are discouraged. Almost 30,000 individuals have disappeared since 2006, meaning they vanished without trace, and officials routinely decline to open investigations when families ask for help. This feeds the impression of official collusion with criminals, which may explain why only about one in ten kidnappings is reported to authorities. After a steady decline in homicides in

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