Mexico should stop its president’s latest antidemocratic maneuver


The United States is not the only North American democracy at risk from a president’s belief that he is a victim of election-rigging. In Mexico, left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador lost the 2006 presidential election by less than one percentage point, cried fraud and refused to concede even after tribunals unanimously rejected his claims, and mobilized supporters to blockade a busy thoroughfare in the nation’s capital. Though Mr. López Obrador ultimately relented and presidents from other parties governed through 2018, he remained obsessed with 2006. Now that he is president — having won an undisputed election in 2018 — Mr. López Obrador is bent on remaking the electoral system he still blames for cheating him more than 16 years ago.

The president’s proposals threaten the system’s independence and with it Mexico’s hard-won transition from authoritarianism to multiparty democracy. The crucial institution Mr. López Obrador seeks to transform — the National Electoral Institute — signed off on his 2018 win. He nevertheless portrays the panel, known by its Spanish-language initials, INE, as biased, elitist and wasteful of taxpayer money. The president wants a new system whereby voters choose a seven-member panel from 60 candidates of whom the president, Congress and the Supreme Court would each pick about 20;they would serve for six years, the length of a presidential term in Mexico. The susceptibility to politicization of such a panel is obvious. In contrast, the current INE consists of 11 members, selected for their expertise by a nominating committee, then confirmed by a two-thirds vote of Congress; they serve for nine years each. Public opinion polls show that substantial majorities of Mexicans approve of the INE’s work. A recent European Union fact-finding mission concluded that Mexico’s existing system works and enjoys public trust — and that Mr. LópezObrador’s plan “carries an inherent risk of undermining such trust.”

An increasing number of Mexicans rightly suspect that Mr. López Obrador is trying to perpetuate his party’s dominance even after his term ends in 2024, mimicking the authoritarian system that prevailed under the Institutional Revolutionary Party during the 20th century. On Nov. 13, tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City and other cities to protest the president’s plan. Mr. López Obrador branded them as defenders of class and racial privilege — then mobilized his supporters, many of them bused in from outlying regions, for a counterdemonstration in Mexico City on Sunday, in a show of force as the country’s Congress considers the issue. Though the president probably lacks the two-thirds majority needed to amend the constitution, he has said that he will try to achieve his objectives through legislation, which requires only a simple majority.

The Biden administration, the U.S. Congress nor the U.S. public generally should remain indifferent to these developments. The United States has many interests — trade, energy, migration, drug smuggling — in Mexico, but none is more important than ensuring democracy flourishes. Next month’s North American Leaders’ Summit with Mr. López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides President Biden an opportunity to deliver that message in person, and unequivocally.

Source: Washington Post