Massive turnout in defense of Mexico’s electoral authority

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MEXICO CITY – Tens of thousands of people rallied on the Mexican capital’s main boulevard on Sunday to protest President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposal to overhaul the country’s electoral powers, in the largest demonstration against one of the president’s efforts in his nearly four years in office.

The large turnout in the election was a strong criticism of the president’s statements that criticism is only made by the relatively small and elite opposition.

Opposition parties and civil society organizations have called on Mexicans to demonstrate in the capital and other cities against proposed electoral reforms that would restructure the National Electoral Institute, one of the country’s most valuable and trusted institutions.

López Obrador views the institution as elite-oriented, but critics say his reforms threaten its independence and make it more politicized. The initiative includes eliminating state-level elective offices, cutting public funding for political parties, and allowing the people to elect members of the electoral commission instead of the lower house of Congress.

Also, by removing the big legislators, the number of legislators in the lower house of Congress will decrease from 500 to 300 and senators from 128 to 96. They are not directly elected by voters, but appear on party lists and win seats based on their party’s vote share.

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The proposal is expected to be debated in the coming weeks in Mexico’s Congress, where Morena’s party and the president’s allies hold sway.

“I’m tired of Andres Manuel, of so many lies, of so many crimes,” said Alejandra Galan, a 45-year-old manager, waving a Mexican flag through the crowd. He wants to take (the electoral institution) away from us so that we end up like Venezuela and Cuba, but we won’t let him.

Jorge Gonzalez said such comparisons to authoritarian regimes may seem exaggerated at this point, but “I think it’s just one step away. We must have a clear separation of powers, independent institutions and especially the National Election Institute.

The 49-year-old, who works in the financial sector, pointed to seven decades of uninterrupted rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which was finally overthrown in 2000. “In elections and (instead) going back to a way with an institution run by one party.”

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Fernando Blavanzarán, one of the promoters of the protest, said 200,000 people took part in the march. Officials did not confirm this figure.

López Obrador has spent decades fighting electoral officials. He has repeatedly accused himself of electoral fraud, although it was the National Elections Institute that confirmed his landslide victory in the 2018 presidency.

Organizers have said the march is not against López Obrador, but to draw attention to the proposal and urge lawmakers to vote against it.

López Obrador’s party does not have enough votes to pass constitutional amendments without the support of the opposition.

Last week, López Obrador devoted much of his morning press conferences to dismissing the promoters of the protests, calling them “cretins” and “corrupt” and aimed at deceiving the public. He defended the proposal as an attempt to reduce the electoral authority’s budget and prevent “electoral fraud”.

While the consensus is that some cost savings would be desirable, some analysts worry that eliminating state election offices would centralize power too much at the federal level and sacrifice efficiency.

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The election of the members of the electoral court and the leadership of the institution by the people’s vote gives the parties more power to choose candidates. This proposal also reduces the members of the institute’s council from 11 to 7 people.

Given López Obrador’s high popularity and his party’s control of the majority of Mexico’s 32 state governments, Patricio Morelos of the Monterrey Technological University noted that if electoral authority is restored, they will have an advantage and are likely to exercise control.

Protester Giovanni Rodrigo, a 44-year-old wage worker, said Lopez Obrador does not want to relinquish power, if he is not in the presidency, he wants to decide who.

“Without a doubt, he is the best politician today in modern history, and that’s why he owns a party” that controls most of Mexico’s states, he said. This has not been enough. He wants more and more.”

AP writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.

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