03/01/2023 (written by jcarrillo) –On Wednesday, the Senate passed an election reform bill defanging the Instituto Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Institute, INE) with a 72-50 vote. The reform bill, commonly referred to as “Plan B”, will reduce the working capacity of the agency. The INE, an independent, nonpartisan entity within the Mexican government, is responsible for the organization of elections, electoral democracy, and the exercise of political rights. The bill means that about 300 district boards will close, which are responsible for the organization and preparation of elections at a municipal level (El País). It will also reduce the funds allocated to the INE and eliminate 1,500 positions within the agency. The MORENA-majority Senate decided to exclude the “eternal life” clause proposed in the original draft, which allows for the transfer of votes between coalition parties.
As it makes its way to the executive to sign into law, those opposed to the bill made it clear that they will bring the bill to the Mexican Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) arguing its unconstitutionality. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) believes the cuts made in the reform bill will “save millions of dollars and make voting more efficient” (New York Times). The money is said to be reallocated towards social programs and scholarships for students (BBC Mundo). AMLO stands by his party’s bill which he maintains will only strengthen democracy.
AMLO’s “Plan B” faces criticism
The bill faces criticism given that the INE is widely credited for stabilizing Mexican elections and helped end the decades-long one-party rule of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) in 2000. Due to a constitutional reform in 2014, the INE replaced the Federal Electoral Institute by having control over both federal and state elections and becoming “the highest electoral authority in the Mexican state” (INE). Despite the agency’s work to promote and protect democracy within Mexico, AMLO has consistently undermined the agency’s ability to function at its fullest capacity. He has openly criticized the value of the INE and claimed that the institution committed electoral fraud after he lost the 2006 presidential election by less than one percent. Mr. Alcocer Villanueva, a former interior ministry official, cites AMLO’s resentment towards the INE and the 2006 presidential election as a reason for his “irrationality on this issue” (New York Times).
While AMLO presents his efforts as pure, critics fear the changes he has been making and question the future of democracy in Mexico. A major concern moving forward is the ramifications the INE budget cuts will have on next year’s presidential election. Uuc Kib Espadas, an INE adviser, stated the cut in funds could result in a decrease of the number of polling stations, thereby, disenfranchising thousands of people of their right to vote. Moreover, the agency stated there will be less resources to train officials at polling stations and fewer officials to continuously update the electoral registry. With these changes threatening the infrastructure of future elections, the INE fears that democracy in Mexico is being threatened. Critics of the reform bill are suspicious that these changes in infrastructure are a calculated move by the MORENA party to maintain power leading up to the 2024 elections. Professor Mariano Sánchez Talanquer of the College of Mexico claims “it’s an attempt to subjugate the electoral process to gain an advantage in elections”.
Peaceful protests show support for INE and democracy
In reaction to the news, protesters rallied across the country to show their disdain for the Senate bill. This comes after 2022 demonstrations in support of the INE after the first draft of “Plan B” was released. On Sunday, peaceful protests took place throughout Mexico and abroad to voice the threat of the finalized reform bill. Protesters wore the color pink in honor of the organization and held signs with the phrase “The INE is not to be touched” (“El INE no se toca”). Conjointly, many gathered in front of the SCJN demanding the bill be rendered unconstitutional.
Political figures from opposing parties attended the protest in the Zócalo in Mexico City. The president of the PRI, Alejandro Moreno, stated the PRI is “on the side of democracy [and], together we make ourselves heard so that the country’s democratic institutions are not destroyed” (El Mundo). While the government only reported around 90,000 protesters, the organizers reported that around half a million protesters were present. Citizens of Mexico and around the world feel strongly on the issue. As protester Verónica Echevarria shared, they “are fighting to defend our democracy” (BBC Mundo) The morning after the protests, AMLO acknowledged the marches that took place across the country and told the press “they have every right to protest”.
Kitroeff, Natalie. “Mexico Hobbles Election Agency That Helped End One-Party Rule”. New York Times. February 22, 2023.
Becerril, Andrea. Saldierna, Georgina. “Avala el Senado leyes restantes del “plan B” tras ríspido debate”. La Jornada. February 23, 2023.
Linthicum, Kate. “Mexico owes its young democracy to its elections institute. The president wants it dismantled”. Los Angeles Times. December 1, 2022.
Zerega, Georgina. “Menos poder para el INE y más libertad para las campañas: las claves del “plan B” de la reforma electoral”. El País. February 23, 2023.
Olmos, Pablo. “La oposición mexicana se echa a las calles para rechazar la reforma electoral de AMLO”. El Mundo. February 26, 2023.
Suárez, Karol. Hira Humayun. “AMLO admite entre 80.000 y 100.000 personas protestaron en Ciudad de México contra la reforma electoral”. CNN. February 27, 2023.
“Reforma electoral: por qué los cambios propuestos por López Obrador al INE causan tanta polémica y protestas masivas”. BBC Mundo. February 27, 2023.