Tens of thousands of Mexicans took to the streets of the country’s largest cities on 15 November to protest President Manuel López Obrador’s (“AMLO”) plans to reform the National Electoral Institute (“INE”). Protesters, labelled by the President as “conservatives marching in favour of corruption”, fear that AMLO intends to hinder the INE’s independence.
“AMLO is trying to dismantle an institution that is more than 30 years old and was born out of political pluralism and marked the democratic opening of Mexico,” explained a former Mexican senator, “he is continuing his strategy of centralising power and this latest move suggests he fears an electoral defeat in 2024. He is laying the groundwork for a claim of electoral fraud if the current structure of the INE is maintained, which is madness, but it shows his totalitarian disposition.”
“AMLO is trying to dismantle an institution that is more than 30 years old and was born out of political pluralism and marked the democratic opening of Mexico.”
Former senator, Mexico
In April 2022, the government presented the legislative proposal to transform INE into a new institution, arguing that a lack of transparency and economic efficiency at the institution endangered the country’s democracy. AMLO claims that his proposed reforms will limit the influence of the country’s economic elites as it will reduce the financing available for political parties and limit advertising time.
A former political adviser to the Mexican government suggested that AMLO should remember that he came to power under the current system, “The professionalisation of the electoral authority has been going on for 30 years and has seen three presidential alternations, even AMLO knows that his own triumph in 2018 was the result of an impartial, professional and committed electoral authority, and he gave proof of this.”
Despite widespread criticism from opposition parties and former presidents like Vicente Fox, AMLO’s INE reform proposal has the support of senior figures within his Morena party. Claudia Sheinbaum, head of the government of Mexico City, dismissed the volume of the protests, while Miguel Barbosa, governor of Puebla, called on citizens to take the streets in support of the reform on 27 November. Emboldened by his supporters, AMLO even labelled the protest as a “striptease” of the elites and their racist attitudes.
A former INE official commented, “The peaceful protests were a breath of fresh air and a significant show of support for a pluralistic, democratic and participatory system. In contrast, AMLO responded that he would organise a counter-protest on 27 November, in a revanchist mood and typical of a gang leader, not a head of state.”
“AMLO responded that he would organise a counter-protest on 27 November, in a revanchist mood and typical of a gang leader, not a head of state.”
Former INE official, Mexico
Contrasting with AMLO’s belligerence, Lorenzo Córdova, current president of INE, explained to El País why the proposed reforms would perpetuate López Obrador’s political project. For instance, the reform will eliminate INEs’ state-level electoral offices which will be replaced by one national organisation for all elections. Furthermore, the public would choose electoral commissioners from a list vetted by the President, instead of the current special committee; and the ruling party would maintain voter rolls.
It is yet to be seen if AMLO will manage to pass the reforms of the INE, but the former political adviser urged caution, “With AMLO there are no compromises, there is no intention of democratic politics, he is playing a dangerous game that could lead to an enormous political crisis, because popularity does not last forever.”