López Obrador draws backlash over electoral reform


MEXICO CITY — After months of debate and major demonstrations, the Mexican Congress moved on Thursday to pass legislation that would reduce the powers of the National Electoral Institute, a government agency that has been internationally acclaimed for setting elections and ending decades of blatant vote fraud. In the 1990s, the country was on the road to democracy.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador argues that the National Electoral Authority (INE, for Spanish initials) has become a bloated, expensive institution permeated by political interests. But the popular leader’s proposal to overhaul the independent body sparked the biggest public backlash since taking office four years ago. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country protested.

Top election officials said cuts to institute staff in the bill could hurt their ability to hold a smooth national election in 2024. The growth of Morena’s party makes him a potential kingmaker.

René Miranda, the official responsible for maintaining the national electoral roll, resigned in protest after the Senate began passing parts of the bill Wednesday night, the Reforma newspaper reported.

The Senate finished passing the measure on Thursday and sent it back to the lower house, which is expected to pass it as well. López Obrador plans to sign the law later.

How did a crucial US-Mexico alliance fall apart as fentanyl came out?

Uuc-kib Espadas, one of the 11 members of the INE’s board, said the law “will force us – like most presidential elections – to try a new and fragile structure for a difficult, tense and possibly impending presidential election”. polarized.”

As in the United States, where followers of former president Donald Trump have challenged the electoral system, the proposed changes have sparked fears over the future of democracy.

“The fairness and credibility of the elections depends on the arbiter,” said political scientist Sergio Aguayo. “This is why this debate is so central in Mexico and the United States.”

López Obrador, who spearheaded a sweeping government austerity initiative, initially sought deeper cuts in staff and budget at the INE. “We spend more money organizing elections than any other country in the world,” he said.

He also sought to get citizens to elect senior electoral officials to change a system in which they were named by lawmakers after a series of tests of their expertise. Critics have said his proposal would give the ruling party great influence, which already controls Congress and most state legislatures.

Business establishments, the Catholic Church, human rights groups, and opposition politicians smashed López Obrador’s efforts. On November 13, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans joined nationwide marches in support of the INE. Maintaining high approval ratings despite a devastating coronavirus pandemic and recession, López Obrador responded by filling the streets of Mexico City with supporters of his own.

Still, when the initial election proposal was put to a vote in the lower house of Congress, it failed to garner the superior majority needed to amend the constitution and implement its amendments. He settled on the more modest version, which was discussed by Congress this week and called “Plan B.”

AMLO is Mexico’s most powerful president in recent years. Some say it is very strong.

The brutality of those who opposed the president’s proposal reflected the still fresh memories of Mexicans of the one-party system that had existed for seventy years until 2000.

“The biggest frauds in Mexico were committed when the President controlled the electoral mechanism,” Aguayo said.

Human rights groups are warning of democratic decline in the hemisphere. In Brazil, supporters of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro refused to accept his defeat in the October elections. Peru has faced more than a week of violent protests since President Pedro Castillo tried to dissolve the legislature and was impeached and arrested. El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele has announced that he will run for the second consecutive year next year, despite the constitution prohibiting it. Nicaraguan authorities arrested many of President Daniel Ortega’s most serious opponents ahead of the November 2021 election, paving the way to claim a fourth consecutive term.

Democratically elected leaders in other parts of the world have also sought to consolidate their power in recent years by manipulating electoral or judicial authorities. “If you can catch the referee by squeezing or bullying the courts or electoral authorities, you can tilt the playing field,” said democracy expert Steven Levitsky, director of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.

The creation of Mexico’s independent electoral authority in 1990 was hailed as a turning point in the country’s transition to democracy. Mexico has set up high-tech voter ID cards, strict rules on candidates’ campaign activities, guaranteed government funding for political parties, and state and federal electoral courts and Cadillac voting systems to settle disputes.

The carefully crafted electoral mechanism has ended a history of obvious fraud, such as the theft of ballot boxes and the manipulation of vote counting. (Still, it wasn’t enough at the time for López Obrador, who refused to admit his narrow defeat in the 2006 race on allegations of irregularities.)

Even the INE’s advocates have acknowledged its problems, such as a poor track record in preventing candidates from misusing campaign finance limits. Critics say Mexico has gone too far in trying to clean up its elections, enacting such strict rules about when and how government officials can campaign, and are effectively silenced.

López Obrador’s cost-cutting spree is transforming Mexico

The rules were intended to end a tradition in which the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party used its control over the machinery of government to ensure its candidates were elected.

“This place isn’t in the distant past, it’s very recent,” said Tyler Mattiace, a Mexican researcher with Human Rights Watch. He said López Obrador’s legislation would remove some of these guarantees and limit the INE’s power to sanction violators.

The reactions to the electoral law reflect the concerns of some Mexicans that the government is reviving the authoritarian practices of the past. López Obrador regularly attacks journalists, academics, human rights groups and others who criticize him; proposed downsizing the federal institute on freedom of information.

For his part, the president says many of the democratic changes in Mexico are window dressing for a system still dominated by a wealthy elite.

Both sides are threatening to escalate the dispute. The opposition promises to go to court, and the president pledges to campaign for more changes to the electoral system.

“This has only just begun,” López Obrador told reporters.

Alejandra Ibarra Chaoul and Gabriela Martínez contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *