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John Ackerman and Lorenzo Meyer: The State of Democracy and Authoritarianism in Mexico After the 2012 Presidential Elections

Date:  Thursday, January 31, 2013

Panel Description:  In this presentation, the first of the LAII's Spring 2013 Lecture Series, Dr. John Ackerman and Dr. Lorenzo Meyer, leading political analysts, offered back-to-back presentations on "Deconsolidating Authoritarianism: Learning from Mexico's Failed Transition" and "Mexico: Democratic Authoritarianism," respectively. A joint question and answer session followed the presentations.

For a video of the event, please see below.

Presentation Abstracts:  

Dr. John Ackerman: Deconsolidating Authoritarianism: Learning from Mexico's Failed Transition

Mexico looks like a democracy, but it is not. The facade of periodic elections covers up the consistent reaffirmation of elite power, corruption of public institutions and exclusion of popular demands. Mexico today is similar to Russia, Egypt, Venezuela, and even the United States. The Mexican case is particularly revealing because of its long history of undemocratic, sham elections. It can therefore teach us a great deal about the specific ways in which electoral authoritarianism functions. The Mexican people are also much more aware of the insufficiencies of elections than most others. Mexicans' profoundly ingrained resistance to oppression and willingness to speak truth to power offer hope for the future.

Dr. Lorenzo Meyer: Mexico: Democratic Authoritarianism

The presidential elections of July 2012 granted a victory to the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), a political party which during 71 uninterrupted years - from 1929 to 2000 - controlled political life in Mexico from the municipal level to the presidency. Rule by the PRI made Mexico's 20th century, in political terms, one of the most successful examples of authoritarianism in LAtin America and, in fact, the world. It is because of this that the opposition's nonviolent electoral victory in 2000 was considered not only an exchange of power between political parties but also an authentic regime change. However, the PRI's return to power and the presidency at the end of last year raises an important question: Can the Mexican body politic, Mexico's democracia, unite under the leadership of a party whose nature is undemocratic? To this moment there is not a clear answer to this vital question. The political culture of Mexican society has changed a great deal and a sizeable portion of the citizenry demands an exercise of true plurality, yet part of the Mexican public finds itself disillusioned and seeks, with the return of the PRI, the certainty of the past. On the other hand, the institutional structure continues to be, basically, the same which was created under the old regime and many of the same undemocratic practices survive. Is the contradictory concept of "democratic authoritarianism" enough to characterize the reality of the Mexican political process? The reasons for asking such a question will be the the topic of this presentation at the University of New Mexico.


Dr. John Ackerman


John M. Ackerman is Professor at the Institute of Legal Research of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Vice President of the International Association of Administrative Law. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Sociology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is an expert in the topics of democracy, elections, rule of law, transparency, accountability, independent agencies and citizen participation. Member of the National System of Researchers of Mexico's National Science and Technology Council, Level II. Editor-in-Chief of the Mexican Law Review at the Institute for Legal Research of the UNAM. In 2012, he was recognized by the UNAM as the leading young scholar in the area of the social sciences.

He is a prize winning columnist for the newsweekly Proceso and the daily La Jornada and has also contributed pieces to leading media outlets such as New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Financial Times, The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Nation, The Guardian, Newsweek/Daily Beast, Slate, Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Periódico Reforma, and El Universal. He has been awarded national journalism prizes on two occasions, in 2010 from the Pagés Llergo Foundation and in 2009 from the National Press Club in Mexico City.

Ackerman has been a Senior Consultant to the World Bank and was coordinator of the National Working Group on Transparency, Oversight and Accountability of the National Fiscal Convention in Mexico. He has also been a consultant with USAID, OECD, UNDP, Global Integrity, International Budget Project, Open Society Institute and in Mexico with the Secretary of the Public Function, the Supreme Court, the Chamber of Deputies and the Government of Mexico City. He has received funding for his research from the Fulbright Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the University of California Institute on Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS).

E-mail: | Blog: | Twitter: @JohnMAckerman (with over 75k "followers").

Dr. Lorenzo Meyer


Dr. Lorenzo Meyer is a professor as well as columnist in leading national and local newspapers. He also is a commentator in TV and radio. He graduated from El Colegio de México where he obtained a B.A. and a Ph.D. in International Relations in 1966; later he pursued postdoctoral studies in Political Science at the University of Chicago. He is author of several books on the history of the political relations of Mexico with the United States, England and Spain as well as on the political and social history of Mexico during the 20th Century. Among his most important publications on the subject are: México y los Estados Unidos en el conflicto petrolero (Mexico and the United States in the oil controversy, 1917-1942); Su Majestad Británica contra la Revolución Mexicana (His British Majety against the Mexican Revolution) and El cactus y el olivo. Las relaciones de México y España en el siglo XX, (The cactus and the olive tree. The relationship between Mexico and Spain in the 20th century).

Meyer is an analyst of the Mexican political system, particularly the transition from authoritarian to a democratic regime. His most importants publications on this subject are: Liberalismo autoritario (Authoritarian liberalism), Cambio de régimen y democracia incipiente (Regime change and incipient democracy), El Estado en busca del ciudadano. Un ensayo sobre el proceso político mexicano contemporáneo (The state in search of the citizen), and El espejismo democrático (the democratic mirage). He has published more than a hundred and thirty book chapters and articles in academic publications.

Meyer has a long trajectory as university professor in Mexico, the United States, and Spain and has received several national prizes, among others, the prize from the Mexican Academy of Science, the National Press Award and the National Prize of Sciences and Arts. He is an emeritus professor from El Colegio de México and also from the National Research System. At the present he is a professor of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.