Mexico is bypassing politicians to practice democracy by social media

Grassroots lawmakers.
Grassroots lawmakers.
Image: Reuters/Edgard Garrido
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Mexicans have the right to bypass their elected officials and propose laws directly to congress. But so far, it’s been practically impossible to do so, due to the requirement of a 0.13% backing by the electorate, or more than 100,000 signatures in ink and on paper.

Now a mishmash of citizen groups is using Facebook and Twitter to get over that hurdle, in order to propose a law that would combat corruption. Through those platforms, they are asking Mexicans to download and sign the official form (link in Spanish) required for citizen law proposals and turn it in at any one of 140 delivery points around the country, which they’ve conveniently pinned on Google Maps. There are also delivery points in the United States.

Perhaps more importantly, organizers want signers to encourage all their social media connections to do the same by using the hashtag #YaFirméLey3de3, which translates to: ”I already signed the three-of-three law.” The initiative, which aims to encourage transparency and reduce corruption, is known as the three-of-three law because it requires officials to submit three documents to the public: a statement of interests, tax return and list of assets.

The effort, which was launched at the beginning of the month by a coalition of non-profits, has been adopted by one of Mexico’s most prestigious universities, Tecnológico de Monterrey (Spanish), as well as the national employer organization (Spanish) and chambers of commerce, which have made their offices around the country available as signature collection points. It has been signed by intellectuals and internet personalities, as well as politicians across the ideological spectrum (Spanish.)

“Everyone is saying ‘I’ve had enough of corruption. How can I help?’” says Pedro Gerson, a researcher at the Mexican Institute for Competitivity, which is involved in the project.

Gerson tells Quartz they don’t know how many signatures they’ve gathered yet, as the forms are still scattered around the country. They hope to cart 120,000 of them into the Mexican congress by March 21.

Although Mexicans are getting more and more room to participate in public policy—the citizen initiative process was created by a 2012 law reform—they still have to swim through thick layers of bureaucracy. Mexico’s current government system evolved from Spain’s colonial rule, which was designed so European monarchs could keep tight control over their American subjects. It remains very top-down and paper-based.

The federal government has started switching to electronic records in some areas, for example, to collect taxes, but that’s not the case for citizen initiatives. The National Electoral Institute, which is in charge of verifying the signatures, did not respond to requests for comment about why it doesn’t take electronic signatures, or how many citizen law proposals it has reviewed and forwarded for a vote in congress.

Organizers of the current effort say they know of a single citizen law proposal that made it to congress. It called for universal internet access, but was never passed into law. Now they hope that the topic of corruption will have more traction.

Mexico, which ranks 95th out of 168 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index, loses billions of dollars due to graft. Part of the problem is that anti-corruption laws are not very effective, starting with their failure to clearly define what constitutes corruption.

President Enrique Peña Nieto last year created a national anti-corruption system (Spanish,) but congress has yet to pass the laws that will underpin it. So a group of transparency experts wrote the three-of-three law proposal. Under it, corruption and its punishments are specified. It also calls for a digital platform to centrally store the information necessary to investigate politicians—and move beyond the paper era.