Edited by Padideh Ala’i and Robert G. Vaughn
Chapter 7: Transparency under dispute: public relations, bureaucracy, and democracy in Mexico
Democracies in search of ways to prevent the halting of accountability and answerability would be well served by gazing into the mirror of the paradoxical and uneven trajectory of transparency in Mexico. A decade ago Mexico was featured by many as a paradigmatic example of institutional engineering for accountability, including sophisticated constitutional reforms creating regulatory and oversight agencies, freedom of information provisions and citizen empowerment. But in spite of these formal achievements, the country has in fact become an example of bureaucratization, over-politicization and the watering-down of accountability. Many expected the emergence of vigorous political competition over the last two decades in Mexico to have a positive impact on corruption and accountability. But this has not been the case since competition between political parties has not translated into better oversight or an improved equilibrium between social interests and government institutions. In this chapter, I will explore the details of this process in order to learn how best to understand, define and practice transparency in a way that prevents the “freezing” of democratization processes in the developing world. If new democracies are unable to demonstrate that they are more effective and accountable than the previous authoritarian systems, democracy and elections are put at risk. In addition, transparency, like democracy, is a “politically contested” concept that can be interpreted and practiced in a variety of ways.
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