Mexican Supreme Court Chief Justice Arturo Zaldívar. Photo: Google

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

Despite protests from legalists, constitutionalists and lawmakers alike — including from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) own leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party — the president’s “initiative” to extend the four-year term of Supreme Court Chief Justice Zalvídar easily passed the Mexican Congress on Friday, April 23.

The controversial bill, which extends Zaldívar’s stint another two years through 2024 so that it will end at the same time that AMLO’s presidency is slated to end, had been called “unconstitutional” because it not only broadens López Obrador’s stranglehold on Mexico’s three pillars of power (the executive, the legislative and the judicial), but also opens the door for an extension of AMLO’s six-year term.

The bill was strongly opposed by most opposition leaders and by some Morena legislators, including the most senior member of Mexico’s lower house Chamber of Deputies, Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, who called the so-called Zaldívar Law a “flagrant, unnecessary and absolute violation of the constitution.”

That sentiment was echoed by the conservative National Action Party (PAN) coordinator at the Chamber of Deputies, Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, who called on AMLO to “read the constitution, because it is not possible to extend the constitutional mandate of any official through a secondary law.”

By the same token, José Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the law constitutes a “frontal attack on the rule of law” in Mexico.

Even Zaldívar himself, who was appointed to his post by AMLO, said he was taken “off guard” by the president’s initiative, adding that it would be “up to the Supreme Court to resolve any legal challenges to the law.” (Zaldívar has ruled such moves unconstitutional in similar cases, including an attempt to prolong the term of Morena’s Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla from a two-year term to five years.)

But all those warnings went unheeded on Friday when the new bill was passed easily by the Morena-dominated Chamber of Deputies, after having been approved a week earlier by the also-Moneran led Mexican Senate.

Since taking office in December 2018, one of AMLO’s key ambitions has been to consolidate power on all levels, supposedly in order to “assure” that his Fourth Transformation (4T) of the nation’s political landscape goes as planned, without the interference of opposition voices.

To that end, he has consistently weakened and attacked other key institutions, including Mexico’s electoral authority, the National Electoral Institution (INE), and pushed through a controversial energy reform, despite the Supreme Court ruling that key elements of that law are unconstitutional.

…April 26, 2021

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