By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
The growing violence against Mexican politicians, journalists and electoral officials poses a potential threat to the country’s June elections and could mar the credibility of the polling results, the head of the National Electoral Institute (INE) said Friday, May 28.
“By definition, the presence of violence constitutes the negation of democracy,” INE President Lorenzo Córdoba said during a small binational zoom conference organized by Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government, in cooperation with the Mexican Society in Oxford, the People in Government Lab and the Oxford University Latin American Center, to which Pulse News Mexico was invited.
“For fair and open elections to be held, they must be carried out in a safe and peaceful environment.”
But according to the Mexican risk management consultancy firm Etellekt Consultores, as of Thursday, May 27, at least 88 politicians have been killed in the 2021 electoral cycle, of which 34 were candidates for the June 6 elections, which will be the largest in the nation’s history.
“It is not easy trying to run elections in this environment,” Córdoba said frankly.
“There has been a lot of violence so far, and that is something that we are not proud of. In fact, this election cycle is ¿turning into one of the most violent in Mexican history. And free elections are a vital element in democracy.”
Córdova, who himself has been a victim of verbal threats and other aggressions by disgruntled candidates (one wannabe pre-candidate for the coastal Mexican state of Guerrero from the majority National Regeneration Movement, or Morena, party said that he would “get back” at Córdoba after the INE did not allow him to run for office because he had not properly declared the source of his campaign financing), said that one of the main problems that Mexico is now facing is violence against politicians.
“This is a huge problem,” he said, “and we are working very closely with both national and local authorities to guarantee the conditions that will allow free, democratic elections to be held.”
Asked about the fact that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has openly stated that he would like to see the INE eliminated, Córdoba was extremely careful to not make any specific reference to any party or individual.
“I want to make it very clear that the INE’s role is to ensure a free and fair electoral process,” he said.
“We do not side with or back any party or government. We are simply acting as a referee to ensure that the previously agreed upon rules are complied with.”
Córdova went on to say that it is not the INE’s job to rewrite or redefine electoral law.
“That is something that is decided upon beforehand by the nation’s legislators, and if someone or some party wishes to change those rules, that has to be done in Congress, not through the INE. We just enforce the rules that are laid out by Congress.”
He added that if there is a question or debate over a decision made by the INE, the issue is resolved by Mexico’s ultimate electoral authority, which is the Superior Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF).
“The TEPJF has the last word,” he said.
Still, with the current Mexican administration’s open disdain for the INE (along with all other independent agencies intended to provide checks on government powers) Córdoba said that his office is working hard to maintain its professionalism with “much difficulty, temperance and patience.”
“The situation is difficult because the growing political polarization in Mexico is complicated by allegations by some political actors,” he said, again, refusing to provide names or specifics.
“At the INE, we have to remain above any political fray because we are the nation’s electoral authority.”
Córdoba did say that while some people have tried to diminish the credibility of the INE, the majority of Mexicans have expressed great trust in the institution, which was founded in 1990 as the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) with the objectives of ensuring fair elections through dissociating the executive branch from any aspect of the polling process and creating an even playing field for all candidates and parties.
He went on to note that, according to the government’s own National Institute of Statistics and Geography (Inegi), the INE is the second-most trusted institution in Mexico, right after that military, with over half of all Mexicans stating that they have full confidence in its workings.
“And according to some polls, 68 percent of Mexicans trust the INE, the highest rating we have ever had,” Córdova said.
“It takes years of hard work and diligence to win that kind of public trust, and that same credibility can be lost in a very short time.”
Consequently, he said, the INE is constantly striving to make certain that all its actions are transparent and that Mexican voters understand the entire electoral process, from beginning to end.
“We are working to avoid confrontation of any kind,” he added.
“When groups of individuals try to provoke us, we make sure we don’t take the bait.”
Córdoba said that it is this crucial element of public credibility that is needed to ensure that the election results are accepted.
“These elections will be unlike any in Mexico’s past, because of their size and because they are being conducted during a global pandemic and because they are taking place during a time of extreme political polarization,” he said.
“We held smaller special elections last year in the states of Coahuila and Hidalgo, so we have some experience in conducting an election during the pandemic. But these will be national elections and we have to make sure that they are as open and transparent as possible so that the Mexican people maintain their trust in the INE and in the electoral system itself.”
In the end, Córdoba said, “public confidence in the electoral system is one of the core ingredients in any democracy.”