Mass protests against Mexico’s electoral changes are planned

Mass protests against Mexico’s electoral changes are planned

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s opposition plans mass protests on Sunday against President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s drive to shrink independent electoral powers, arguing the changes threaten democracy – a charge he vehemently denies.

Mexico’s Congress last week approved a major overhaul of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which López Obrador has repeatedly attacked as corrupt and inefficient.

Critics of the law, which would cut INE’s budget and staff, are marching in Mexico City and other major cities as the controversial shakeup looks set to go to the Mexican Supreme Court.

According to many political analysts, the INE and its predecessors were instrumental in creating a pluralistic democracy that ended decades of one-party rule in 2000.

Fernando Belaunjarán, an opposition politician who helped organize the protests, said the changes weakened the electoral system and increased the risk of conflict in the 2024 election when López Obrador is chosen as his successor.

“Usually presidents seek governance and stability for their legacy, but the president is creating uncertainty,” Belaunjaran said. “He’s playing with fire.”

Mexican presidents can only serve one six-year term.

López Obrador, a 69-year-old leftist who claims he was stripped of the presidency twice before finally winning a landslide victory in the 2018 election, argues that the INE is too expensive and biased in favor of his opponents.

The company denied it.

According to INE, the president’s amendment violates the constitution, curbs the independence of the institute and eliminates thousands of jobs dedicated to safeguarding the electoral process, making free and fair elections difficult.

López has also weakened Obrador’s other autonomous bodies that check his power on the grounds that they are a drain on the public purse and hostile to his political projects. He says his INE shake-up will save $150 million a year.

This week he called INE “anti-democratic” and a tool of the ruling elite, accusing it of fomenting electoral fraud.

Polls show that the president’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which has become the dominant force in Mexico in just a few years, is a strong favorite to win the 2024 election.

Critics of the INE overhaul argue that López Obrador is not confident Morena can hold on to power without meddling in the electoral process. He denied this.

Belaunjarán and his fellow protesters targeted Mexico City’s central Zocalo square, which is far from the presidential palace, and freighted with political significance.

Over the years the Zocalo has organized many rallies in front of López Obrador, both as president and in his long career as an opposition party to the Mexican establishment.

Demonstrators hope Sunday’s protest will garner more support than the thousands who turned out in November to denounce López Obrador’s previous, failed bid to push through constitutional changes to reform the INE.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Diego Orr; Editing by Josie Cao)

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