Tuesday, June 25, 2024

AMLO vs. the INE, or how to really hold a grudge

The president of Mexico is not one to let things go easily.

That he’s the most powerful man in the country does not seem to allow his conscience to relax. There are scores to be settled, correct moral positions to be proved, actions to be justified. 

Many things offend him. News media outlets and even individual journalists; women marching through the streets decrying femicide; companies that compete “unfairly” with the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission (CFE); UN reports that contradict his assurance that corruption and impunity are no longer rampant in Mexico. 

And most recently, an assertion by half a million Mexicans around the country marching in protest that the National Electoral Institute (INE) “shouldn’t be touched.” The president strongly disagrees.

This all started with a proposal for electoral reform in which the INE would be replaced by a new agency called the National Elections and Consultations Institute with a few major alarming features

For one, we’d see the replacement of current electoral officials with those who will be “voted in by the people.” I can’t imagine that enough people would vote to make it an effective strategy, and I’m suspicious that many of the candidates would be chosen by the President and Congress. Why should a voting official be a political position? 

Also, our current INE officials are doing a good job. Democracy in Mexico is working; if it weren’t, to give a dark example, no one would bother with so many political assassinations here because they’d be able to ensure through corruption that the candidates they don’t like simply don’t win.

Why wipe the board clean to put new people in?

One reason, of course, is that President López Obrador has never forgiven the INE for 2006, when he narrowly lost the presidential election. Admittedly, I’ve always thought that they could have and should have done a recount for such a close vote, but you’d think his sweeping win in 2018 would have given AMLO and the INE a chance to kiss and make up. 

But AMLO seems to still be nursing a grudge. 

Another feature of this proposed electoral reform is the reduction of public funding for candidates and parties, which, honestly, I don’t feel I know enough about to opine except to note that their funding will now have to come from somewhere

If we want to avoid money’s influence in politics, ensuring that parties and candidates will end up being funded privately seems a risky move. I’m also weary of so many of AMLO’s  “austerity measures” that are extremely focused on organizations he either has a grudge against or cannot personally see an important purpose for — like the Mexican film industry and the arts in general. 

His own pet projects that have run vastly over budget (Why, hello, Maya Train!) are conspicuously left out of these conversations.

Finally, the reform bill seeks to reduce the number of federal lawmakers, trimming the current Congress of 500 down to 300 and having those 300 elected nationally rather than by district. I’m pretty sure that representation in a democracy is fairly important… isn’t it?

If the president is able to pass this through legislation — mercifully, he doesn’t have the votes for a full-on constitutional reform — my prediction is that this will be a confusing mess the same way his other “scrap it and start over” initiatives have been during his administration’s “fourth transformation” of the country. 

My fear is that the new electoral body will be a great way for the ruling Morena party to make sure election outcomes meet its approval. Mexicans fought hard for an institution that prevents inevitable one-party rule like Mexico had for decades under the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Many citizens today seem to see no need for a new electoral oversight body when the one they have works pretty well, and I agree.

Personally, I’ve wondered a lot about the president’s inner thoughts and psyche. Is he ill-informed about the reality on the ground for most Mexicans? Is he willfully ignoring the country’s stubborn problems when he insists that things like corruption now exist exclusively in the past?

Mostly, he seems intent on “fixing” institutions and projects by scrapping them completely and starting something new — sure that he can set everything up in a better, fairer way with predictable results.

The airport, Insabi (the replacement for the popular Seguro Popular public healthcare scheme), our recently cemented militarization — there have been a lot of changes around here lately. 

But the airport seems to have been a flop and the healthcare system is still in disarray, COVID-19 having deepened its troubles shortly after its chaotic implementation. Militarization, on the other hand, seems to enjoy wide support. So far, anyway.

If his motivations weren’t so nakedly an attempt to “redo” everything his predecessors had come up with, I might be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt more often, though I’m wary of policies that throw the baby out with the bathwater. When the reasons seem to stem from personal vendettas, I’m even less trusting. 

We’ve seen this movie before. And AMLO deciding that he’ll be the one to reformulate the electoral system is extra suspicious.

Not everything AMLO has done has been bad, and I still think that he believes that his intentions are mostly good. I was a big supporter for years, and while I’ve since been disappointed by him over and over again, I haven’t completely lost my faith.

His social programs that distribute direct cash assistance have given much-needed help to those in poverty whose lives would be much worse without it. Could more be done? Certainly, and ideas abound regarding specific steps that should be taken to lift many Mexican citizens out of the country’s growing pool of poor people. 

On the other hand, when there are a lot of poor people and you give them money, it’s a great way to stay popular and keep throngs of loyal followers. Just ask the PRI.

And so it was this past Sunday: people were bussed into Mexico City from all over the country to march with the president in support of his policies. The president made a point of saying that it wasn’t about the electoral reforms, even though it was billed as a “counter-march against the conservatives,” his self-proclaimed biggest enemy.

A friend and longtime supporter of AMLO told me before heading out, “This is a critical time for people to come out in support of Peje [AMLO’s nickname].”

Personally, I’m a little more concerned at the moment with Mexican democracy than I am for our president’s feelings.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, sdevrieswritingandtranslating.com

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