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Mexico’s president proposes dramatic electoral reforms

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MEXICO CITY – The Mexican government on Thursday proposed a dramatic overhaul of the country’s electoral system and the agency that oversees it – one of the country’s most trusted institutions. It would reduce the size of Congress and state legislative assemblies, while electing the federal electoral commission by voters, which would potentially add a higher degree of policy to what has been an independent body.

The proposal would also reduce federal funding for political parties and election spending in general – a recurring goal for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has often quarreled with the National Electoral Institute.

The proposals put forward by López Obrador and several members of his cabinet would create a new federal electoral authority to replace the institute, as well as eliminate similar bodies at the state level.

“There is no intention to impose a single party,” López Obrador said. “What we want is for there to be a real democracy in the country and for electoral fraud to end … to leave a real democratic state established.”

But the road to what will certainly be a controversial reform package would be difficult. López Obrador’s party and its allies do not have the two-thirds majority in Congress required to make constitutional changes. The main opposition parties have already said they are against such changes.

Another major constitutional reform proposed by the president to shake up the energy sector was far below the required votes last week.

López Obrador seemed to recognize that the proposed reforms would hardly be adopted. He urged Congress to study each element of the proposal, make the public aware and then decide. He said it was his responsibility to present it “even if it is not approved.”

Even if López Obrador is unable to pass his constitutional reform, he could again cut funding for the electoral institute in his next budget, which could jeopardize the 2024 presidential election.

López Obrador has spent decades fighting the electoral authorities. He considers himself a victim of electoral fraud on several occasions, although it was the National Electoral Institute that confirmed his landslide victory in the 2018 presidential election.

The proposals will reduce the number of lawmakers in the lower house of Congress from 500 to 300 and senators from 128 to 96 by eliminating the major lawmakers. They are not directly elected by the electorate, but appear on party lists and are given seats based on their party’s share of the vote.

Political parties would only receive public support during campaigns instead of annually, as they do now. The rules against officials and agencies promoting their programs during campaign seasons would be relaxed. Currently, even many public sites are disabled during campaigns.

The López Obrador administration claims the changes would save Mexico $ 1.2 billion and allow citizens to choose honest people to stand for election.

Georgina de la Fuente, a member of the Latin American Political Reform Observatory, called the proposals “very unfortunate” and said they represented important setbacks in some areas. There are things that could be perfected, she said, but there are a lot of good practices, “that work and work well.”

Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, said so much in an interview with Nexos magazine that he shared Thursday via Twitter. He said there were things that could be improved, such as reducing the money given to political parties and implementing electronic voting, but stressed that there must be consensus among the parties, otherwise there will be mistrust.

De la Fuente said the move towards a centralized electoral system “not only goes against international trends but contradicts the executive’s goal of making elections cheaper” because the elimination of state-level electoral bodies will only pass on costs, not eliminate them.

The idea of ​​a popular vote for election officials has been panned before by academics. They argue that people in these positions should be experts, and that having them voted on can lead to political bias in the way elections are conducted.

“To think that a constituency so diverse and so uninformed would have the ability to select councilors and judges is pure demagoguery and pretense,” said Clara Jusidman, founder of the NGO Citizen Initiative and Social Development. She said those in power would direct their supporters to vote for whoever they wanted.

Several of the proposals would undo or loosen reforms that helped Mexico break free of single-party rule that lasted from 1929 to 2000.

The supreme legislators were set up to give smaller parties representation in Congress – originally largely symbolic – at a time when the institutional revolutionary party had an iron grip on elections and rarely recognized any opposition victories.

The Independent Electoral Commission was created by a series of reforms in the 1990s following a public outcry over alleged fraud in the 1988 presidential election, which – like previous polls – had been controlled by the Federal Interior Ministry. It helped lead to the opposition party’s victory in the 2000 presidential election.

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