Jorge Castaneda, Mexico's foreign minister from 2000 to 2003, last week announced that he was running for president in 2006. Castaneda, a former columnist for NEWSWEEK International, hopes to run as an independent candidate, but must petition the government to waive a law prohibiting anyone not affiliated with a party from seeking office. He discussed his ambitions with NEWSWEEK's Scott Johnson. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to run?
CASTANEDA: The country needs change. The 2000 [presidential] election was a referendum on the PRI. Now the kinds of changes needed are much more complex, much more subtle, but aren't possible with the current party system. I have a series of ideas to make things happen.
You've said that the Mexican political system is broken. Why?
There have been two breakdowns, one of Mexico's institutions and the other of its parties. Mexico went through the 20th century with an authoritarian system [that] worked in ways not stipulated by laws. Now that Mexico's institutions do follow the letter of the law, it turns out that they're dysfunctional.The best example is that the Congress is not accountable, because its members can't be re-elected. Also, with the three-party system, it's [virtually] impossible to have a [legislative] majority. We had three years of a PRI president without a majority, and now we will have had six years of a PAN president without a majority. The next president, whoever's elected in 2006, will not have a majority. So we have total political paralysis.
How do you propose to change the system?
I'm going to insist in this campaign that congressmen and senators be allowed to [run for consecutive terms], so there can be accountability, and that we have a system whereby major constitutional issues can be decided by referendums, like in Europe or the rest of Latin America. I want a semi-parliamentary, semi-presidential regime where you have a president elected by everybody, who is commander in chief, and, in addition, a prime minister who is appointed by the president but approved by the Congress. There should be a run-off system for presidential elections, so that our next president isn't elected with 30 percent of the vote, which is very likely to happen.
Would your institutional reforms be the primary goal of your presidency?
No, they would just be a means to an end, a way to get other things done, such as major legal and educational reform. They are my two main priorities, but the institutional changes have to come first.
They would require constitutional amendments?
Yes, all would be constitutional amendments.
Without major-party support, how can you mount a viable campaign?
We've seen tremendous swings in voter loyalty over the last 10 years, since the start of more or less free elections in Mexico. The disenchantment of people with the parties is very evident. In the last election, 70 percent of the registered voters did not vote for any of the major parties; 60 percent abstained, and 10 percent voted for the small ones or crossed out their ballot. I think people want an alternative, somebody not part of the discredited, corrupt, paralyzed party system that we have.
What has Fox done wrong, in your view?
The sequencing of his reform agenda has been wrong. The idea that we could get things done without changing the system was a mistake. There's a vested interest [in the parties] to bring about these institutional reforms if there's a president who places them at the top of his agenda. If you ask someone in Mexico if he thinks that a referendum is important, he'd say of course not: I want a job. Leadership means telling that person, you will get a job if we have institutions that work, and that allow us to make the other changes that will allow our economy to grow. If you do it the other way around you end up with what Fox has--nothing.
What about your support?
I have the kind of support that's not in the polls... I don't have clear, explicit business-sector support, and at this stage I don't think it makes much sense to seek it or have it. I have found a great deal of support for my ideas from students and women. They are the two sectors that are most receptive.
Do you really think you can win?
Absolutely. I wouldn't be doing it if I couldn't win. I don't believe in Pierre de Coubertin's maxim--that the important thing isn't to win, but rather to compete. In politics, it's all about winning.