Pro IQRA News Updates.
Electoral reforms proposed by the Mexican government sparked massive protests across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in more than 100 towns and cities to protest the legislation passed by the government of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The reform would reduce funding for the country’s electoral authority, which critics say undermines its independence and its ability to organize elections.
Most of the protesters were dressed in pink and white uniforms, the color of the National Electoral Institute (INE). They attack the reforms as unconstitutional and designed to make electoral scrutiny less effective while making it more difficult to register to vote in remote areas. The new law passed the Senate on February 22 by a vote of 72 to 50.
López Obrador justifies the reforms on the basis of cost. Mexico’s elections are among the most expensive in the world. The president has long criticized the institute for the size of its permanent bureaucracy and the high salaries of administrators, which its supporters believe are necessary to ensure qualified and loyal staff.
The INIE is seen as particularly important in Mexico where elections have previously been questioned due to a perceived lack of transparency in this young democracy. It is important to remember that Mexico had an authoritarian regime led by the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI) between 1929 and 2000.
During the authoritarian period, elections were held periodically, but they were undemocratic due to fraud and coercion. The PRI controlled the presidency from 1929 until 2000, and until the late 1980s most elected government offices. The PRI managed its factions, and the flawed and corrupt electoral system ensured that the leadership could keep the elites happy by ensuring that they won.
So creating a strong and independent body to run Mexico’s electoral system without political interference was central to the country’s transition to democracy. As a result, many Mexicans are fiercely protective of INE and see López Obrador’s reforms as nothing short of interference with democracy itself.
There are two problems with the fix. The first is procedural: it is not negotiated with the main opposition parties, as has been done in previous reforms, nor is it fully discussed after the usual legislative process in Congress. The second is its content and its effects on the National Statistical Institute. The reform limits the NIE’s ability to carry out its duties, by changing its structure and legal authority to keep political parties and candidates accountable.
Since 2014, the National Institute of Statistics has been responsible for organizing all elections in the country. Mexico implements a federal system that includes 32 states, the capital, and 2,471 municipalities. Mexicans vote at the federal, state and municipal levels. Elections take place every year at a certain level.
In 2024, Mexicans will vote for the president, federal representatives, senators, nine governors, and legislators in 30 states. The process will require 150,000 polling stations across the country.
The structure of the NIS is complex. It has 32 executive councils at the state level and 300 executive councils at the provincial level. López Obrador’s reform reduced the number of elective civil servants in the state assembly from five to three, and in the local council from five to one.
These personnel are responsible for organizing the elections: setting up the polling stations and recruiting and training people to run the centers during the elections. NIS staff must also manage and update the voting record. It is estimated that the reforms will reduce the number of INS staff by 85%.
The other main criticism of the reform is that these local INE councils administer voter ID cards, which most Mexicans view as their main form of identification. The reform will reduce the number of offices issuing these cards and move them from their own offices to schools, health centers and other government buildings.
There are concerns that these places will lack the security infrastructure to protect this information. And relocating INES offices to these locations threatens to undermine its independence – or, equally important, the public’s perception of its independence.
Mexicans living abroad (primarily in the United States), who previously obtained their identity cards through a special arrangement between the National Institute of Statistics and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will now vote with their passport or consular ID card. This would cut off the independent domestic intelligence service, further undermining the operation’s credibility.
INED also oversees campaign spending with the power to disqualify non-compliant candidates — as it did with two candidates from the president’s party, Morena, in 2021. The recent reform, which also reduces the maximum penalty for infractions to a fine, will make it harder for INED Statistics to investigate and decide on such cases.
The next legal battle
Opponents of reform demanded that the Supreme Court be constitutional. Judge Alberto Perez Dayan has suspended his request for two-term elections to be held this year. López Obrador responded by criticizing the judge and his ruling.
He also recently accused Supreme Court Chief Justice Norma Peña – the first woman to hold the position – of presiding over “a wave of rulings in favor of criminal suspects”, in a statement widely seen as an attempt to undermine the court’s authority. .
López Obrador currently enjoys high levels of popularity and Morena’s prospects in the 2024 elections are viewed as very favorable, so it seems counterintuitive to introduce reforms that effectively undermine electoral power. It remains to be seen whether public outcry over this electoral reform will affect his approval rating.