Mexicans stage mass protests against legislation that weakens electoral authority

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MEXICO CITY — Tens of thousands of people packed Mexico’s grand plaza and rallied across the country on Sunday against a law that weakens the national electoral institution.

The poll underscores how much the electoral law has galvanized voters, four years after President Andrés Manuel López Obrador dominated political life. The veteran leftist party has a majority in Congress and has swept most of the governorships, defeating a divided opposition marred by corruption scandals.

The uproar over the new law comes as concerns grow Retreat in democracies that have replaced dictatorships In many parts of Latin America after the Cold War.

Demonstrators packed Mexico City’s Zócalo, the broad square in front of the presidential palace, home to about 100,000 people. Many wore pink shirts and baseball caps, the color of the National Electoral Institute, or INE.

“Don’t touch our vote!” They chanted, waved Mexican flags and raised umbrellas against the morning sun.

López Obrador changed the electoral law, sparking protests

“We are not ready to lose our democracy,” said businessman Oscar Casanova, 75, who attended the rally with his relatives. He said he feared Mexico was in danger of becoming “another country like Venezuela – like Central America or South America.”

Many Mexicans think so 33-year-old INE To be one of the most important institutions in the country’s transition from seven decades of one-party rule. It replaced a fraud-ridden election system with a tight regulatory regime overseen by thousands of workers who issue voter ID cards and control nearly every aspect of state and federal voting.

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López Obrador has accused the autonomous electoral agency of becoming a bloated bureaucracy led by lavishly paid civil servants, some of whom are close to the opposition. He says his plan to cut INE’s budget and staff, part of a broader government austerity drive, will save $150 million a year.

Many of López Obrador’s critics worry that the law passed last week is aimed at keeping his party in power in next year’s presidential election.

“He wants to change the constitution for his own benefit,” said Fabiola Gonzalez, 53, a high school teacher who joined several friends in the march.

Lopez Obrador’s cost-cutting spree is transforming Mexico

Nonetheless, López Obrador is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, and his party is likely to win the 2024 race — with or without the new law. Some analysts believe that López Obrador’s distaste for the electoral system is rooted in the bitterness of his narrow defeat in the 2006 presidential election.

The election law has alerted Mexican opposition and members of the US Congress.

“By approving President López Obrador’s proposal … the Mexican Congress is jeopardizing the future of its country’s democratic institutions,” Chairmen of the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committees – Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) and Sen. Robert Menendez (DN.J.) – said last week. “Returning Mexico to its dark past of presidential-controlled elections resets its democracy, but also resets U.S.-Mexico relations.”

Sunday’s demonstration drew thousands of middle-class voters who have become increasingly disillusioned with the president’s attacks on journalists, academics and other critics and his broadsides against the “neoliberal” economic policies of past governments.

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López Obrador remains popular, however, especially among the poor half of the population. He has raised social spending and the minimum wage, and appealed to ordinary Mexicans through the vernacular and constant travel around the country — often by car or commercial plane.

Arturo Hernandez, 53, who runs a small store in the working-class Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, said the president’s focus on Mexicans like him was a marked change from the past.

“For a tribe, the president’s greeting is huge,” he said. “We’ve never seen this before.”

For all the concerns that López Obrador is following the path of authoritarian left-wing leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, the Mexican president has largely maintained his country’s traditional economic policies and free trade agreements.

Hernandez noted that aside from a deep recession triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Mexico has enjoyed economic stability. “Otherwise, there wouldn’t be so many cars,” he said. “There won’t be as many Walmarts.”

The new law is expected to face a court challenge soon. At a protest in Mexico City on Sunday, retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Jose Ramon Cosio urged the justices to declare the move unconstitutional.

“We know the pressures you face from those who want to take over Mexico’s electoral system,” he said.

For his part, López Obrador countered Sunday’s protests and plans his own mega-demonstration at the Zócalo in three weeks in honor of the country. 1938 Expropriation of foreign oil companies.

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