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/.
Ana Sophia Sleeman
I agree with your perspective regarding Mexico’s democracy standing at a vulnerable point with Andres Manuel’s presidency. Overall, a populist leader is considered a threat to democracy because they often employ tactics that undermine the principles of democracy, such as free and fair elections, the rule of law, and the protection of individual rights and freedoms. Populist leaders often appeal to the emotions and prejudices of their supporters, rather than relying on rational argument and evidence. This can lead to the demonization of political opponents and the promotion of policies that are based on ideology rather than practicality.
From the start of his presidency, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been perceived as a threat to Mexico’s democratic system as he has divided society into antagonistic groups – the “pure people” against the “corrupt elite.” During his press conferences that are held every morning, he criticizes journalists, columnists, independent public agencies, and private institutions to create resentment amongst social classes, and as a consequence, has increased Mexico’s violence and crime rates at a rapid speed. Additionally, AMLO’s attempt to expand the role of the military and eliminating electoral institutions in Mexico are some of many warning signs of democratic erosion in the country as they can negatively impact the rights and freedoms of individuals. I am hopeful as well that current protests in Mexico will eventually influence the opposing political party that is currently in power, and thus, prevent Mexico from falling into a permanent change in its governmental system.
It does seem to me that Mexican democracy is under threat, and I am curious if Obrador may have overplayed his hand. Even if these reforms do pass, public opinion will surely play a role in the next election cycle. It seems that, as you said in your introduction, this move shed a light on the true intentions of Obrador’s party. Fortunately, the mass protests indicate that many citizens do care about democracy, and a lack of repression in response shows that Obrador is likely not willing to take any overtly authoritarian actions at this time. I’m curious what Obrador’s justification for his reform is– is it rooted in populist rhetoric, or is he claiming it is simply to increase governmental efficiency? In addition, is his party falling in line behind him? I think the success, or lack thereof, of Obrador’s use of populist rhetoric to effect public opinion and garner party support is an essential piece of information in predicting where Mexican democracy is headed and if Obrador will ever be able to take more authoritarian steps.
After reading your post, I can connect Mexico’s politics with Argentina’s Politics. Similar to Mexico, Argentina’s democracy has also experienced backsliding, but Argentina is still considered stable. One of the most significant barriers between democracy and democratic backsliding, in Argentina’s case, is the citizen’s right to protest and make their voice heard. So, public opinion is as essential in Argentina as it is in Mexico.
Thank you for this connection. I look forward to further analyzing the similarities and differences of Mexican and Argentinian politics in this context.
I thoroughly enjoyed your article on president Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his populist electoral reforms. I wonder, besides public opinion and congress, are there any other institutions of accountability? Is there a weak judiciary? Additionally, has there been any international condemnation of these electoral reforms?
I have recently seen a few articles discussing the decline in US manufacturing orders in China by 40%; simultaneously, the Mexican manufactory industry has grown for the third straight month; this comes as the US looks to diversify its supply chain, especially within North America. My question is, do you think the increase in economic growth will bolster the chances Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be able to capitalize on this economic momentum to erode democracy further?
(manufactory decline & Mexican growth links)