In the name of defending the fairness of the electoral process, thousands of Mexicans gathered this Sunday in the heart of the country’s capital to express their opposition to the Government’s plans that provide for budget cuts and changes in the structure of the body that oversees the elections.
On Sunday morning, the Zocalo square was packed with many thousands of people. And that is nothing short of a feat. Constitution Square, as it is officially called, in the heart of Mexico City is one of the largest in Latin America and an emblematic place of political power. It is there that the National Palace, seat of the executive power and official residence of the President, and the government building of the Federal District are located, in addition to the Metropolitan Cathedral. It is also said that this was where the palace of the Aztec emperor was built, before the European colonization of the Americas.
On Sunday, a mostly pink sea invaded the Zócalo, in a protest against one of the most controversial reforms of the Government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The color was chosen because it is used institutionally by the National Electoral Institute (INE), the independent public body responsible for organizing electoral acts in Mexico.
According to the organizers of the protest, which was replicated in more than 100 Mexican cities, there were around 500,000 people in the Zócalo, although the security forces’ count points to 100,000. What nobody doubts is that this was the biggest public demonstration of opposition to Obrador since his ascension to the presidency.
Last week, Congress approved an electoral reform, dubbed by the national press as “plan B”, which, among other changes, provides for deep cuts in the budget allocated to INE. Critics of the government’s plans even say they are unconstitutional and threaten the independence of the electoral authority. INE played a decisive role in the early 1990s, during the process that put an end to a system that, in practice, was one-party.
“The reform is a setback for democracy, this man wants to control the elections,” Alejandro Rodríguez, a 61-year-old lawyer who was at the demonstration in the Zócalo, told AFP. “This man” is López Obrador, known informally as AMLO. In power since 2018, the President has had a troubled mandate, full of controversies and, for his critics, he represents a danger to the democratic system, with his aggressive stance towards the press and a strong defense of direct democracy.
The cuts in the INE budget will result in the extinction of 300 district councils and, according to the organization itself, could force six thousand dismissals of employees across the country. At stake are fears that the limitations imposed on the electoral authority will jeopardize the fairness of future elections, including the next presidential ones scheduled for mid-2024.
For the opposition, the aim of AMLO, who cannot run for re-election, is to create the conditions for Morena, his party, to solidify itself as the hegemonic party, similarly to what the Institutional Revolutionary Party achieved for seven decades. “They want to make the referee disappear to manipulate the citizen’s decision in 2024”, declared journalist Beatriz Pagés Rebollar, one of the organizers of Sunday’s protest action. Among the protesters, the most heard slogans were “You can’t touch INE” or “You can’t steal our vote”.
The Government has defended the changes with the argument that maintaining the INE in its current form is too expensive and has only served to guarantee privileges to its directors. According to Morena’s calculations, the planned cuts will save 3.5 billion pesos (180 million euros), says the the country.
The great hope of opponents of the reform lies in the 11 judges of the Supreme Court who, in the coming months, will analyze the requests of unconstitutionality presented by the opposition parties to the Government.