Last February, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) received massive criticism for recently approved electoral reforms that seek to undermine Mexico’s most renowned independent electoral commission the National Electoral Institute (INE), formerly known as the National Federal Insititute (IFE). These reforms arrive at the cusp of AMLO’s 6-year term, which began in 2018 and are one year ahead of the 2024 Mexican presidential elections. Raising fears that AMLO is setting the stage for a return to a Mexican hegemonic party system and securing an unfair advantage for his populist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party in the upcoming elections, at the same time eroding the quality of free and fair elections. AMLO’s reforms conversely called “plan B,” were approved by the majority MORENA Mexican Senate with 72 votes, and will in effect slash the INE budget, cut down the number of staff, and eliminate/close local offices in charge of local and federal elections (BBCNewsmundo). AMLO’s justification for these reforms are to enhance Mexican democracy, not put it at risk for the upcoming elections, mainly arguing that defunding the INE will reduce the economic interests of the rich and ruling elite (BBCNewsmundo), I argue that these reforms are doing the complete opposite and are eroding a key democratic institution that has protected free and fair elections in Mexico.
Electoral reforms to the INE are not new, yet Plan B notoriously attacks 3 decades of arduous work to increase oversight for free and fair oversight on elections and procedures, while promoting civic education and engagement. Two constitutional reforms occurred prior to this year, the first in 2012 created a provision to include popular consultations and referendums with the objective of to open opportunities for more political participation; the second, in 2014, increased the INE’s oversight of local elections, changing its old INF name to INE, to reflect its new mission to promote civic education and development for a democratic culture (Soto). Despite these significant strides for the promotion of democracy in Mexico, AMLO’s Plan B provisions strangles and hinders INE’s resources so much in the staffing and operations that the INE requires to operate. Already, the INE is facing challenges implementing plan b and organizing itself for the upcoming 2024 elections, with the president of the INE, Lorenzo Córdova leaving his post on Abril 3rd and the departure of 3 electoral advisors, will be left up to the House of Deputies to decide the fate of additionally elections (El País). As of now, the INE electoral commission and advisors will be open to collaboration and dialogue with the House of Deputies MORENA leader deputy Ignacio Mier Velazco, which according to the latter will find budget that aligns with the needs of the institute and guarantee the organization to the electoral process (El Universal). However, this dialogue between electoral commissioners and legislature should be taken with a grain of salt, especially since for the Electoral process for 2023-2024, since the INE commissioners have expressed their concerns for their operations and what is sought out from them, and likewise demand that all institutions and including political actors and public offices in Mexico take responsibility for protecting and preserving democracy (INE). Despite this dialogue and communication, these reforms have increased the excursion of political forces from both legislative and executive actors on the independence and autonomy of the electoral commission; which framed as budget and restructuring of the INE’s resources is in fact an attempt to stronghold and undermine the abilities to functions and operations of the INE. By consequence, this is an impairment and erosion of a democratic institution, given that the objective of the INE was to remain stray from political influences and remain objective and neutral without the interference of the latter or any other extraneous factors that impair fair and free elections.
Nonetheless, resistance to Plan B was met by massive protests across the nation yet were undermined and dismissed by the AMLO regime. Over half a million people across the country showed up in metropolitan areas demanding to stop the reforms, in Mexico City alone 90,000 people rallied in the Zocalo or plaza of the National Palace to protest (BBCNewsmundo). Furthermore, backlash rallied protestors demanding #No_tocas_el_INE (Do not touch the INE) and demonstrated significant resistance towards AMLO’s autocratic tendencies (Montes). Yet, AMLO’s regime met the resistance with quick dismissal, and is no stranger in doing so to any resistance or opposition, within his term, attacks on press, manifestations and/or social movements have usually been commonplace with AMLO (O’Niel). Despite these movements, much of the uncertainty persists, especially for the 2024 elections and the handpicked successor who will run for the MORENA presidential bid. Already in October of last year, AMLO assured that he would not engage in the long-term Mexican presidential tradition of handpicking, ‘Dedazo,’ of a candidate successor for 2024, dismissing the tradition, though assuring to follow through with the no-reelection clause which is staple of all elected public offices in Mexico (Latinus,2022). This has not stopped contenders for the MORENA party pick, such as the governor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum; Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Marcelo Ebrard and Secretary of the Interior, Adán Agusto López Hernández (Latinus,2022). The question now becomes whether the reforms of Plan B will benefit the MORENA party in the upcoming elections; furthermore, if the MORENA party will become a new hegemonic ruling party reminiscent of the Institutional Revolutionary Institute (PRI), which strongly ruled Mexico for 70 consecutive years from 1930’s to 2000’s (Adolfo Aguilar Zinser).
Already, the MORENA party holds majorities in both legislative bodies, the Senate and House of Deputies, but the MORENA party was a product of AMLO for the presidential election with varied range of political ideologies. The party, which was founded in 2013, led by AMLO, has had internal conflicts, scandals and infighting (Stevenson, 2022), though the uncertainty is placed more on after AMLO’s term ends and the unexpected change of power if a new successor takes charge. While MORENA has not confirmed their candidate, the dominance of MORENA continues to be noteworthy; at the same time, opposition from PRI and National Action Party (PAN) is fractured and an alliance between the two was created it is unlikely to be successful to push through in the elections; all the while, the MORENA party despite its strength will struggle to sustain a platform post-AMLO, since even AMLO hasn’t contributed to improving the cohesion among different factions and coalitions making up the party (Limas Villers). Adán Augusto López Hernández who is also from AMLO’s home state of Tabasco, is becoming a more prominent candidate being behind the INE reform and working with opposition leaders, but time remains until the 2024 election races to dictate the future strength and leadership of the MORENA party (Zissis).
While the bid for the MORENA candidate remains in queue for the 2024 election races, the 2024 elections are going to be the most difficult for the INE to organize and sustain free and fairness because of the Plan B revisions that have hindered its budget and resources. The attack on the INE, both in budget, personal, offices will hinder local and national elections alike and create severe consequences for the future of the democratic institutions. Setting the stage for 2023, Mexico takes a step back into democratic erosion, in part because of AMLO’s disdain for the INE and attacks on the institution serve more of political maneuver and leverage to make an enclave for exerting executive power by controlling its “budget and bandwidth,” and limit the role of punishing violations for campaign laws and debilitating procedures (Brookings Institute, Wirstchafter & Sarukhan). Though the guarantee of the MORENA party to remain powerful without the cohesion of strong leadership post-AMLO contributes to the uncertainty of its survival. One thing is certain, that the reform on the INE is a step backward in the democratic process, despite AMLO’s remark’s that, “I have evidence to prove there is more liberty and democracy in our country (AP),” the reality is that defunding and slashing of resources of the INE, was in fact detrimental to the quality of elections and promotion of democracy within Mexico.