Another populist attempts to strengthen their power through eliminating electoral institutions in Mexico. Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has used his power in the presidency to consolidate power that will inevitably erode democracy. Andrés Manuel López Obrador was met with protests erupting in early November, throughout Mexico in response to electoral ‘reforms’. These reforms would consist of eliminating state level electorate offices, reducing the number of legislators in both congress and senate. López Obrador claims these reforms would strengthen democracy in Mexico, however this is a very slippery slope and can often result in the opposite. Müller and Kendall-Taylor & Frantz provide interesting examples of populism and the harmful effects of populism in democracy. As populism often gives rise to authoritarian-like leadership, the mechanisms that they use can be obviously identified once true intentions are brought to light.
Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador was not persuaded to change his proposed electoral reforms, despite mass protests. López Obrador first mentioned reforming electoral institutions back in March of 2022 and said he “would send a proposal to Congress in April aimed at letting citizens elect electoral authorities” . The proposal also included intentions to decrease the number of legislators and senators, from 500 to 300 and 128 to 96 respectively. As well as eliminating all state level electoral offices and cutting public funding of political parties. Although López Obrador claims that his reforms will further strengthen democracy within Mexico, this is a tactic used by populists to gain control of government. In the article “How Democracies Fall Apart; Why Populism Is a Pathway to Autocracy”, Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Erica Franz describe the moves of a populist as slow and calculated in the beginning that eventually erodes democracy. The first step is “deliberately install loyalists in key positions of power” (Kendall-Taylor & Franz, 2). If these reforms are passed, López Obrador would have the power to install loyalists, through means of campaign finance, political endorsement, etc. Considering López Obrador’s political party Morena, controls both the presidency and congress, most of the power seems to be consolidated to López Obrador. Another concern to an otherwise healthy democracy is instilling mistrust in government institutions that have worked effectively. López Obrador, who had faith in Mexico’s electoral system in the 1990s, changed his opinion once he narrowly lost his campaign for president in 2006. López Obrador cited fraud and corruption as the reason for his defeat. “While none of the vote-annulling claims made by … Andrés Manuel López Obrador was backed by reliable evidence, the disgruntled candidate and social movement leader did raise questions about the election’s credibility” (Eisenstadt & Poire, 1). Mexico is now facing democratic erosion through López Obrador’s reforms that will damage the legitimacy of democratic elections.
Although recent populism in Mexico has not yet been damaging to its democracy, these electoral reforms are the turning point. This is because populism is not always a negative thing, however when a populist leader alters aspects of government, therefore beginning “authoritarianization”(Kendall-Taylor & Franz, 2). López Obrador’s response to those who didn’t didn’t support reform was to deem them against the country’s progress. “The president said the demonstrators used the electoral reform as an “excuse” to protest and said they were really protesting “against the transformation taking place in the country” . Which is a key point made by Jan-Werner Müller in “What is Populism?”; populists deem those who are against them as corrupt or otherwise morally inferior (Müller, 16). This is especially seen through López Obrador’s comments claiming that those who protested the reforms, “did it in favor of racism, classism, and discrimination”. López Obrador is demonizing his opposition in order to justify his own actions. Recently there have been human rights groups questioning the intentions of López Obrador’s electoral reforms, “Given Mexico’s long history of one-party rule maintained through questionable elections, it is extremely problematic that legislators would consider a highly regressive proposal that would weaken the independence of the elections authority” . Many opposition parties within Mexico see the true motivation to consolidate power, and are drawing attention to it through protest. Although as it stands in Mexico, Morena does not have ⅔ majority of congress and therefore in order to pass the reforms,they would need support from the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI. The Industrial Revolutionary Party currently opposes the bill .
Mexico’s democracy stands vulnerable, however not permanently changed by populist influence, yet. It will be interesting to see the result of the vote on the bill for reforms. One of the only procedural barriers that are preventing democratic erosion, is the requirement for ⅔ vote within congress. This safeguard is more effective in preventing democratic erosion than a retroactive measure would be at remedying democratic erosion. However, as protests spread, there is hope for public opinion possibly influencing the president’s actions, at least influencing the opposing political party that is currently in power.
Eisenstadt, Todd A., and Alejandro Poiré. 2006. “Explaining the Credibility Gap in Mexico’s 2006 Presidential Election, Despite Strong (Albeit Perfectable) Electoral Institutions.” Typescript.
Kendall-Taylor, Andrea, and Erica Frantz. “How Democracies Fall Apart.” Foreign Affairs, 20 July 2022, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-12-05/how-democracies-fall-apart.
“Mexico’s President Floats Proposal for Public to Pick Electoral Authorities.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 29 Mar. 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/mexicos-president-floats-proposal-public-pick-electoral-authorities-2022-03-29/.
Montes, Juan. “Mexicans Protest President’s Plans to Overhaul Election Agency.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 13 Nov. 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/mexicans-protest-presidents-plans-to-overhaul-election-agency-11668368781.
Press, Associated. “Mexico President Dismisses Massive Protest against Reforms.” AP NEWS, Associated Press, 14 Nov. 2022, https://apnews.com/article/mexico-caribbean-ac6f3125ab422db39e845ffc50078a43.
Reuters. “Human Rights Watch Warns against Mexico’s ‘Regressive’ Electoral Overhaul.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 6 Dec. 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/human-rights-watch-warns-against-mexicos-regressive-electoral-overhaul-2022-12-06/.