By MARK LORENZANA
The contentious electoral reform spearheaded by deputies from the leftist National Regeneration Movement (Morena) of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has further divided the country, and two groups have emerged thus far: those who have called for a complete transformation — or even scrapping — of the National Electoral Institute (INE), and those who are adamant that the autonomous, public electoral agency be left alone.
The first group is headed by López Obrador, followed by legislators and leaders of Morena; the Labor Party (PT) and the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM); governors of those parties, secretaries of state; and even the president of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Rosario Piedra Ibarra, whose agency recently attacked the INE.
The second group is composed of congressmen and leaders of the centralist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the conservative National Action Party (PAN), the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Citizen’s Movement Party (MC), as well as members of academia, the private sector, civil organizations and the Catholic Church — an opposition bloc that has been growing by the day.
The clashing of both groups over the controversial electoral reform has already led to requests for resignation, disqualifications, calls to demonstrate on the streets and even the request for a national strike. Political experts believe that the division over the electoral reform puts the governance and stability of the country at risk.
“Many sectors want to defend the INE. They do not want it to be modified or subordinated to the government, so it is indeed a confrontational issue that undoubtedly puts governability at risk,” warned political analyst José Antonio Crespo in an interview with Mexican daily newspaper El Universal. “Between now and the 2024 elections, those tensions are going to grow.”
The presidential proposal reached Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies on April 28 of this year, with proposals such as replacing the INE with the National Institute for Elections and Consultations (INEC), reducing the number of electoral councilors to seven and electing them by citizen vote, as well as eliminating the Public Election Bodies in the States (OPLES), among others.
To date, 110 proposals have reached the lower house and are being analyzed; however, various voices from Morena and allies have insisted that the particular proposal of López Obrador should be passed.
“The electoral reform is very important so that fraud is banished. Democracy must be asserted as a way of life and as a political system,” López Obrador declared on Oct. 13. Likewise, in his daily morning press conference on Monday, Oct. 31, at the National Palace in Mexico City, AMLO stressed the need for electoral reform, saying that “the conservatives are capable of committing fraud in 2024.”
“What we do not want is for this corrupt, anti-democratic system to continue, which is in the power of the conservatives because they are capable — and I am not speaking tentatively — of committing fraud as they have already done,” López Obrador said. “And that must be avoided because it would be a setback, a very serious matter for the country, and these conservatives are capable of doing it. They already did it, they committed fraud — not once, but several times.”
Mario Delgado, national leader of Morena, said that the INE “must be reformed or exterminated,” while the coordinator of Morena in the Chamber of Deputies, Ignacio Mier Velazco, said he believes a reform of the INE is overdue.
“We need an INE that is not expensive, one where its members are democratically elected,” Mier Velazco said on Oct. 16.
For his part, Secretary of the Interior Adán Augusto López defended the presidential proposal, saying that “Mexicans are tired of the fact that we have one of the most expensive electoral processes in the world.”
However, in a recent telephone survey conducted by Mexican newspaper Reforma, 61 percent of those interviewed believe that, although Mexico’s electoral system is expensive, it is worth taxpayers’ money given that the country enjoys free and reliable elections thanks to the INE. On the contrary, only 19 percent would give priority to an electoral reform that would seek budget cuts for the electoral system.
On the other hand, the advisers of the INE; national opposition leaders; and the parliamentary coordinators of the PRI, PAN, PRD and MC have warned of the risk of a “democratic regression,” a position with which they have agreed — even at the international level, as they called the attention of the Venice Commission — “not to undermine the INE and democracy.”
Leaders of the academic sector pleaded to the Chamber of Deputies to junk the proposal, which they described as “regressive,” while the civil organizations National Civic Front and Unid@s por Mexico announced the holding of a march on Nov. 13 in defense of the INE, in addition to a national strike on Nov. 14.
“The government seeks to strip citizens of our right to organize elections ourselves. The INE should not be touched, and it is everyone’s responsibility to defend it,” said the civil groups in a statement.
Similarly, the Mexican Episcopate Conference (CEM), the official leadership body of the Catholic Church in Mexico, expressed concern about the political-electoral reform currently being discussed in the Chamber of Deputies, and considered it regressive because it eliminates the autonomy of the INE. The CEM believes that the electoral reform is an affront to democracy in the country.
Ramón Morales, professor of political communication at the Pan American University, likewise warned of the polarization brought about by López Obrador’s initiative.
For her part, political analyst Arlene Ramírez Uresti warned that the electoral reform is a sign of a country transitioning into a totalitarian state.