Mexico’s Polarizing President
By ALEJANDRO ENVILA FISHER
Don´t expect to seen any great changes occur during the second half of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) six-year mandate.
Based on what he has done so far, it is pretty clear that the next three years of AMLO’s leftist administration will follow the same strategy as it has up until now: social polarization thorough his myopic interpretation of good and evil, allies and adversaries, and left and right.
The approval of his 2022 Federal Expenditure Budget (PEF) — which he “ordered” Congress to pass verbatim, “without even changing a comma” — is proof apparent that compromise is not a concept included in his political worldview.
There was no willingness by AMLO or his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party’s legislators to negotiate absolutely any aspect of the budget with opposition leaders.
The majority will was imposed without the slightest intention of listening to minorities, regardless of the fact that the opposition presented many proposals that would have been worth incorporating into the PEF to better serve Mexican society.
AMLO and his take-no-prisoners administration have consistently set their sites on two Mexican institutions: the National Electoral Institute (INE), which was established in 1990 to ensure electoral transparency and strengthen Mexico’s democracy, and the national judicial process.
And AMLO’s imposed expenditure budget is indicative of his continued efforts to weaken these essential democratic institutions.
The massive 5-billion-peso budget cut to the INE in the 2022 PEF was not the only example of AMLO’s use of financial strangulation to punish institutions he does not like.
The country’s judicial institutions will also feel the financial pinch of the president in 2022, with an austere budget allocation that was 4 billion pesos short of what it had asked for.
There can be no doubt that the cutbacks for the INE and Mexico’s judiciary were intended as punishment for blocking some of AMLO’s most controversial initiatives, or at least trying to.
And the legal fallout for the administration will be seen in the weeks ahead.
The INE has already announced that it will go to court to fight the cut in its budget.
The national judicial system, on the other hand, has made no public comments on the cutbacks, but without sufficient funds, many already-long-and-tedious legal processes will become even more lethargic, thus crippling further the national judicial process.
One question that will remain to be answered in the coming months is whether public money is best spent on the construction of a tourist train that AMLO has promised will spur economic development in Mexico’s southeast (albeit at the cost of devastating that region’s entire ecosystem) or on investing in more federal courts to ensure fair and timely justice, and on vaccines to fully protect all Mexican citizens against the ravages of covid-19 with internationally approved drugs.
As for the cutbacks for the INE, the situation is clear. Without sufficient funds, the institution will not be able to provide the transparent elections and consultations that the president has claimed he wants. And it could prevent his mandate renovation consultation from even happening.
Of course, these cuts will have operational consequences in the electoral and federal justice fields. But what we intend to analyze here is the reasoning behind and the objectives for which the president having imposed a submission of the legislature to constrict the INE and the judiciary.
Absolutely nothing would happen to Mexico — neither good nor bad — should AMLO’s mandate revocation consultation not be carried out, since the López Obrador government is not facing any political crisis.
But, as already stated, the administration of justice in Mexico will suffer a further slowdown.
Both budget cuts were intended as retaliatory payback by the AMLO administration.
The reasons for the punishment seem clear. The were acts of political and personal revenge by López Obrador himself.
In short, they constituted yet another step forward in AMLO’s attempt to restore an imperial presidency in Mexico that many of the politicians who are governing today have contributed to dismantling over the last 35 years.
AMLO’s disdain of and efforts to restrict the INE have nothing to do with the performance of that institution, but rather with the president’s intention of liquidating its autonomy to return to the years when the elections were organized by politicians like Manuel Bartlett, who spearheaded the alleged electoral fraud against López Obrador in 1988 and who now heads up the country’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE).
In the case of the judiciary cutbacks, AMLO’s dislike of the indistitions stems from the Supreme Court’s rejection of his plan to extend the mandate of its chief justice, Arturo Záldivar.
Záldivar never intended to stay in office beyond his original mandate, nor did he believe that the proposal would be approved, but he allowed the president to think
he could get away with his plan. Záldivar’s silence on the matter constituted an implied act of endorsement.
And his flirtation with an extended mandate — which would have potentially set a precedent for an extended presidential mandate — cost him dearly in terms of credibility and respect, both among his peers and nationwide.
Meanwhile, AMLO has ratified that he has two institutional adversaries on his hit list: the INE, which he has never ceased to revile and accuse of waste and unnecessary expenditures, and the Supreme Court, whose members he openly insulted when he repeatedly said in public that he could only trust Záldivar.
By extension, he has said that the other justices, including Juan Luis González Alcántara, Margarita Ríos Fajar, Norma Piña and Yasmín Esquivel, are untrustworthy.
What AMLO might want to bear in mind is that fact that it is that same cout, composed mostly of judges he has deemed untrustworthy, that will have the last word in resolving any controversies that may arise in his increasingly judicialized political antics.
The word that comes to mind is polarization.