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Reform Future Tied to Election Results

By Andrea Villar | Tue, 06/01/2021 - 05:00

With over 21,000 elected positions to be renewed, as well as the 95 million registered voters expected to participate, Mexico’s elections on June 6 could turn the tide on President López Obrador’s proposed changes. In the 2021 elections, 500 federal deputies in 65 legislatures, 15 governorships, 1,063 deputies in 30 local congresses and 1,926 city councils in 30 states will be elected. At the national level, the renewal of the Chamber of Deputies plays a key role, as the approval and progress of the proposals and constitutional reforms of López Obrador's administration depend on whether or not the president’s party holds on to its majority in Congress. 

The current lower house, last elected and shaped in 2018, has 61.6 percent representation of the 'Juntos Haremos Historia' coalition of the MORENA, Labor Party (PT) and (PES) parties. This means an over-representation of 15.7 percent, according to the National Electoral Institute (INE). To avoid this situation, the Superior Chamber of the Electoral Tribunal of the Judiciary of the Federation (TEPJF) endorsed at the end of April a restriction approved by INE to prevent the majority party from achieving over-representation in the Chamber of Deputies by nominating its own members as candidates of another party with which they are in coalition.

This new restriction states that the effective membership of each of the winning candidates according to the principle of relative majority shall be verified at the time of the candidate's registration. This news did not go down well with MORENA President Mario Delgado, who saw it as a way of limiting the party's ability to maintain its majority in Congress. 

The temporary migration of lawmakers is not a new practice. In 2012, the coalition formed by the PRI and PVEM parties saw the triumph of five candidates registered under PVEM who were actually PRI members. This prevented PRI from over-representation. In the 2018 elections, the coalition between MORENA, PT and PES followed the same approach. In 292 districts, these parties participated as a coalition and in eight districts they did so separately. Out of 220 relative majority districts won by these parties, 106 were nominated by MORENA, 58 by PT and 56 by the PES. However, as soon as they were declared elected, many PT and PES candidates returned to their party of origin to join the MORENA parliamentary group. 

A major reason to keep his majority in the lower house is for López Obrador to consolidate the changes he has made to the constitution and the counter-reforms he has underway. Chief on the agenda are changes to the electricity law, amendments to hydrocarbon laws, changes to the constitution of autonomous bodies and modifications to the electoral laws. In Mexico, constitutional reforms require more than 66 percent of the votes in both houses of Congress.

López Obrador, INE Confrontation

To understand the relationship between President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the National Electoral Institute (INE), it is necessary to go back to the 2006 presidential elections. When polling closed that year, the initial margin of difference gave López Obrador a wide lead, according to preliminary results in the afternoon. However, the margin narrowed as the votes were counted and scrutinized, ultimately handing the election victory to Felipe Calderón.  López Obrador and his party decided not to recognize the result, claiming an alleged electoral fraud based on certain irregularities that occurred on the day of the election. 

Ever since, the now president still considers those elections fraudulent and his campaign against INE has intensified. Since mid-2020, President López Obrador has hinted at his intentions to intervene in the elections. “We are going to make sure there is no fraud. I am going to become a guardian so that the freedom of citizens to freely elect their authorities is respected,” he said on June 22, 2020, in his morning conference. In January, the president announced that he would carry out an administrative reorganization to eliminate autonomous bodies, starting with those that do not require any legal reform to disappear, meaning those created by presidential decrees such as the Federal Economic Competition Commission (COFECE) and the National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data (INAI). 

The President's dispute with INE escalated in late March when the institute left Félix Salgado Macedonio out of the June 6 election race. The MORENA candidate for the Guerrero state government accused of sexual abuse was suspended due to an irregularity in the submission of pre-campaign expenses. After the news, López Obrador said during his morning conference that this was an "attack on democracy." Although he added that he would abide by the final decision of the authorities, he suggested that the Electoral Tribunal should conduct a poll to determine Macedonio's popularity and that "the people" should finally decide on his candidacy.

But the blow was a double whammy and intensified the president's lashing out. On Apr. 27, the TEPJF ratified the sanction imposed by INE to Raúl Morón, MORENA candidate for the governorship of Michoacan, denying him the right to compete in the electoral process due to irregularities in his pre-campaign expenses. Two days later, the president proposed INE’s disappearance as part of the reform he seeks to eliminate autonomous bodies, as these are dominated by bureaucracy and are hugely expensive for the citizens, he said. "It would be good if they were accountable, showing how they manage the budget there. One day we are going to show it here, because people do not know, how much is the INE and the parties' budget. Half of it goes to the parties and the other half to INE," he said in his daily conference.

Despite the electoral ban, on May 11, López Obrador accepted that he had intervened in the electoral process because he has the "obligation to denounce acts that violate democracy." This prompted the PAN party to denounce the president's interference in the elections before the Organisation of American States (OAS), arguing that "he acts as the main spokesperson for the MORENA campaign and carries out a counter-campaign against PAN and the Va por México (This One for Mexico) coalition." In a meeting with members of the OAS, PAN national president Marko Cortés called on "the eyes of America to be on the country" on June 6.

Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst