In Mexico too, the president is now attacking the polls
Mexico’s Senate on Wednesday night approved a bill to significantly change the country’s electoral law. The reform is presented by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as an austerity operation, but its detractors speak of an attack on democracy. This would fit into a broader trend of casting doubt on electoral integrity in the Americas, as recently seen by Presidents Trump and Bolsonaro of the United States and Brazil.
AMLO, as the Mexican President is popularly known, likes to portray himself as a thrifty ruler who cleans up Mexico’s bloated and corrupt machinery of government in order to give the liberated pesos to the poor. Under the law which has just been passed, the National Electoral Institute (INE) will have 150 million euros less to spend per year. This reorganization forces the INE to lay off employees, reduce salaries and close offices.
A sharp reduction forces the Electoral Institute to lay off employees, cut salaries and close offices.
According to the head of the INE Lorenzo Córdova, appointed by Congress, this weakens the monitoring of a “certain, credible and transparent” ballot box. It would also become more difficult to properly verify campaign donations. Candidates who violate these rules would then no longer be excluded from participation, as happened in 2021 with two candidates from AMLO’s ruling party, Morena.
In response to this suspension, the president escalated his criticism of INE and its foreman Córdova. According to him, the institute can easily manage with less money. After the vote of the Senate (72 for, 50 against), he only has to sign the law, although it is still subject to a constitutional appeal before the Supreme Court.
Over the past quarter century, the INE has played a crucial role in the return to democracy that took place in Mexico at the turn of the century. For much of the 20th century, the country was a so-called “perfect dictatorship”. Elections were held, but the authoritarian-nationalist Institutional Revolution Party (PRI) still produced the winning presidential candidate through a combination of clientelism, corporatism and voter fraud. In 2000, for the first time in seventy years, a non-PRI politician (Vicente Fox, of the right-wing PAN) became president, in part because the subsequent elections went smoothly thanks to the INE.
Critics say the electoral watchdog is being deliberately crippled ahead of the presidential elections in the summer of 2024. AMLO cannot run for a second term himself, but still enjoys high popularity among the population. It is therefore likely that a candidate from his left-wing nationalist Morena party will succeed him.
Electoral fraud therefore does not seem necessary, but the president still has an old quarrel to fight with the INE. In 2006, he lost his first run for president by less than 1 percentage point. The president has always blamed this defeat on electoral fraud and voter manipulation by winning candidate Felipe Calderón and the then-ruling PAN.
AMLO refused to do so a decade and a half before Bolsonaro and Trump refused to acknowledge their loss after a polarized ballot box. Along with his supporters, he camped out for weeks in 2006 in Mexico City’s large Zócalo square, where he declared “president of the people”. at another swearing-in ceremony. After a second failed attempt at the presidency (in 2012), he finally won on his third attempt (in 2018).
Also read this profile of AMLO: Will Trump have a neighbor who looks like him? (from 2018)
The law passed Wednesday is called Plan B because an earlier, more sweeping policy reform failed in Congress. This watered-down variant is also still the subject of strong criticism from the opposition, which has filed an appeal against it with the Supreme Court. INE has already joined. Top judges are also increasingly under rhetorical fire from the president.
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