Lopez Obrador Could Undermine Mexico’s Electoral Integrity

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Populist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to dismantle the Independent National Electoral Institute.

PA

As much of the world focuses on the October 30 presidential elections in Brazil, we must also pay attention to an alarming political development that could mark the end of democracy in Mexico.

The Mexican government is considering dismantling the National Electoral Institute (INE), the country’s most respected independent electoral body.

INE has played a key role in Mexico’s transition to democracy since the late 1990s, when it became an autonomous government institution. He has since guaranteed free and fair elections in a country that, before 2000, had been ruled by one party for the previous seven decades.

But now populist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador wants to dismantle the INE and replace it with a much smaller and weaker electoral body.

On October 26, López Obrador’s Morena party in Congress approved a 21-member commission to set in motion major political reform. In addition to cutting INE staff, it would cut public funds and media time for political parties and eliminate 200 of the 500 seats in the lower house of Congress.

Mexico’s Congress is due to debate these changes at the end of November, when few in the country will pay attention: that’s when Mexico’s national football team is set to play against Poland, Argentina and Saudi Arabia in of the World Cup in Qatar.

López Obrador, like Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former US President Donald Trump, has long criticized his country’s electoral system. He began to attack election authorities since losing a presidential election in 2006 and blamed it on fraud.

But the INE, which has undergone several reforms since its creation, has won respect at home and abroad.

Senator Tim Kaine, Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, told me that “dissolving the National Electoral Institute in Mexico would be a serious mistake and another major setback for the democracy in Mexico.

Kaine added, “In the United States and around the world, a credible electoral process administered by independent institutions is essential to ensuring” democratic rule.

Roberta Jacobson, former US Ambassador to Mexico, also told me that “the idea of ​​dismantling the INE is more than worrisome”. She added that she has been “one of the strongest electoral authorities in the world, with her leaders called upon by countries around the world” to help them ensure fair elections.

“This is part of López Obrador’s efforts to weaken or remove independent regulatory agencies,” Jacobson said. “Strong democracies need strong and independent institutions. They die in Mexico.

International democracy groups are sounding the alarm.

The European Commission for Democracy through Law, also known as the Venice Commission, published a report on October 22 concluding that López Obrador’s plan to replace the INE with a new institution “could compromise the impartial and independent functioning” of the electoral body.

Daniel Zovatto, regional director for Latin America of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), a non-governmental organization based in Sweden, told me that López Obrador’s decision against the INE is “very serious, worrying and dangerous”. He added: “It could also have a very negative impact on other countries in the region.”

The Mexican President’s claim that he wants to downsize INE to save public funds is ridiculous, considering the huge sums of money he has spent on highly questionable public projects.

López Obrador’s government has spent $18 billion building the controversial Dos Bocas oil refinery, at a time when Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich states are investing to diversify their economies away from oil. He also spent $5.2 billion to build a new airport for Mexico City called Felipe Angeles International, which is 30 miles from the city and virtually empty.

In comparison, INE’s annual budget of $706 million has been one of Mexico’s best investments in ensuring democratic stability, without which Mexico would have a much harder time attracting investment.

Make no mistake: dismantling the INE would take Mexico back to the days when an all-powerful ruling party could rig elections as it pleased. The only difference would be that, this time around, López Obrador would be at the helm.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show Sundays at 7 p.m. ET on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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Oppenheimer

This story was originally published October 28, 2022 7:27 p.m.

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