Mexican protesters see electoral overhaul as a threat to democracy

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Juan Manuel Martinez remembers nan days erstwhile he would ballot successful Mexico’s elections pinch nary assurance that they were being tally fairly.

For decades, nan Institutional Revolutionary Party, known arsenic nan PRI, remained successful powerfulness by buying votes aliases stuffing ballot boxes. Election aft election, nan aforesaid communicative repeated itself.

“No predetermination was clean, populist didn’t exist, nan authorities some controlled nan elections and was nan referee, which isn’t right,” said Martinez, a retired 70-year-old accountant. “We ever knew that they were tricking us, that nan campaigner that was ever going to triumph was from nan PRI.”

A personification wearing a pinkish long-sleeved garment and opinionated successful a crowd holds up a motion adjacent a larger poster successful pinkish

Demonstrators successful Mexico City wore pink, nan colour of nan nation’s electoral institute, and chanted, “You don’t touch nan INE.”

(Alejandro Cegarra / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

That history motivated Martinez and much than 100,000 others successful Mexico City to march Sunday against nan awesome downsizing last week of nan agency that oversees Mexico’s elections, a measurement that they opportunity jeopardizes nan country’s populist and could harm nan 2024 statesmanlike race.

Crowds of group wearing pinkish — nan colour of nan National Electoral Institute, known arsenic nan INE — tightly packed nan main quadrate downtown. “You don’t touch nan INE,” they chanted. One man carried a poster — wrapped successful transparent pinkish cloth — of nan Virgin of Guadalupe. Other protests took spot crossed Mexico.

Mexican lawmakers connected Wednesday approved nan overhaul of nan electoral institute, an independent agency that helped Mexico modulation from one-party norm a fewer decades ago. The changes, backed by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, drastically trim nan institute’s unit and autonomy and are expected to consequence successful a situation earlier nan nation’s Supreme Court.

The electoral institute says that nan downsizing — known arsenic “Plan B” because it follows an earlier, failed attempt astatine an overhaul — will destruct nan jobs of thousands of staffers who shape elections crossed nan country, including identifying spots for polling stations, verifying voting credentials and overseeing nan tally. The changes besides limit nan agency’s expertise to subject governmental candidates who break run spending rules.

The downsizing “diminishes accountability for politicians, which threatens nan equity and transparency of nan elections,” nan electoral institute said successful a Twitter post.

Passage of nan measurement has raised bipartisan concerns successful nan United States. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Rob Menendez (D-N.J.) released a connection informing that “returning Mexico to its acheronian past of presidentially controlled elections not only sets nan timepiece backmost connected its democracy, but besides U.S.-Mexico relations.”

“In spite of his dream to beryllium remembered arsenic a politician and champion for nan country’s astir vulnerable, President López Obrador’s ongoing efforts to undermine INE’s autonomy and independency will assuredly cement his bequest arsenic conscionable nan opposite,” they said.

A man holds chains successful 1 manus and a motion successful Spanish successful nan different

A demonstrator dressed arsenic independency leader Miguel Hidalgo held a motion that sounds “You don’t touch nan INE” during nan Mexico City march connected Feb. 26, 2023.

(Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

The electoral institute has been credited pinch facilitating adjacent elections successful Mexico and allowing nan state to move distant from 71 years of one-party norm nether nan PRI.

A 1996 betterment that shielded nan agency — known past arsenic nan Federal Electoral Institute — from governmental interference created nan conditions for guidance statement campaigner Vicente Fox to triumph nan presidency successful 2000.

López Obrador, leader of his Morena party, has agelong attacked nan electoral institute moreover though it oversaw nan predetermination that successful 2018 swept him into agency successful a landslide. After he first ran for president successful 2006 and mislaid by little than 1% of nan vote, he accused nan agency of being complicit successful elector fraud.

The president, who took powerfulness promising a extremist translator to combat corruption and inequality and has enjoyed high support ratings, denies that nan reforms will put elections astatine risk. In December he said that nan agency needs a much austere fund “so that it tin do much pinch less, for illustration everyone.”

He sought to formed uncertainty connected nan motives of Sunday’s protesters, saying that they are group who “in 1 measurement aliases different benefited from corruption.” He besides tried to necktie them to Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s erstwhile apical rule enforcement charismatic who past week was convicted of taking millions of dollars successful bribes from supplier traffickers.

Huge crowds waving Mexico's green, achromatic and reddish emblem and pinkish banners are seen against a backdrop of buildings

Tens of thousands of protesters tightly packed nan Zócalo, aliases cardinal square, successful downtown Mexico City.

(Fernando Llano / Associated Press)

“They are coming to say, ‘You can’t touch nan INE,’ but besides ‘you can’t touch Garcia Luna,’ and yet it’s ‘you can’t touch nan corrupt and blimpish regime,’” he told reporters astatine a caller news conference. #Marchofthenarcos later trended connected Twitter.

The protestation successful Mexico City’s cardinal square, aliases Zócalo, included a reside by a erstwhile Mexican Supreme Court justness who said he was assured that nan existent justices expected to perceive challenges to nan betterment will “preserve nan antiauthoritarian life of nan country.”

Much of nan crowd was made up of elder citizens who recalled elections nether one-party rule. When asked why she attended, an 81-year-old female simply waved her hand: “I’m a democrat,” she said.

Many said that López Obrador — who cannot tally again — is weakening nan electoral institute successful an effort to support his statement successful powerfulness past his six-year word arsenic president. An predetermination tin beryllium jeopardized if nan institute lacks nan infrastructure to count votes.

“He wants to destruct nan state Mexico has to determine who votes. We are coming to take sides democracy,” said Fernando Hernandez Martinez, 45, a gym coach who voted for López Obrador successful 2018. “He brainwashed us, he said that he’s nan messiah Mexico is waiting for and he tricked us.”

Sánchez is simply a interrogator successful The Times’ Mexico City bureau.