The Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) has ruled against granting party status to a political movement created by former president Felipe Calderón and his wife Margarita Zavala, preventing it from fielding candidates at next year’s elections.
During a virtual court session on Wednesday, four judges voted against the registration of México Libre (Free Mexico) as a political party while three supported it.
The decision ratified a ruling last month by the the National Electoral Institute (INE), which rejected an application to register México Libre as a party because more than 5% of its funding came from “unidentified people.”
Prior to the TEPJF vote, Judge José Luis Vargas argued that INE had acted in accordance with the law and therefore its ruling should be upheld.
He likened México Libre’s financing to past cases of irregular electoral funding including the so-called Pemexgate scandal in which the state oil company union was found to have diverted 500 million pesos to the 2000 presidential campaign of Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Francisco Labastida.
Leader Fernando González sings in a video promoting the RSP, which was given party status on Wednesday.
¡Qué carajos acabo de ver!
— Risco (@jrisco) October 15, 2020
Vargas said that by receiving monetary contributions from unidentified people, México Libre violated the constitutional principles of certainty, transparency and accountability. He said the would-be party received as many as 50 such contributions.
The funding from unknown sources totaled 1.06 million pesos (about US $50,000), or just under 7% of the contributions México Libre received, Vargas said, adding that it might seem like a small amount but for ordinary Mexicans it’s a lot.
The Mexican state guarantees the right to freedom of association but problems arise when a group doesn’t comply with requirements as set out by the law, he said. Vargas told his fellow judges that a vote in favor of allowing the registration of México Libre would be a vote against transparency and accountability.
During the same court session, the TEPJF approved the registration of two parties with links to the federal government whose applications were previously rejected by the INE. It also ruled that a third party that is close to the government can maintain its registration after a majority of judges rejected that it had violated principles of secularism.
Redes Sociales Progresistas (RSP) is led by the son-in-law of Elba Esther Gordillo, the former teachers’ union leader who was jailed by the previous government on corruption charges, but later released.
In addition to denying México Libre party status, the TEPJF also increased a fine imposed on the group by the INE to more than 3 million pesos (US $140,000) from 2.3 million.
Zavala, who launched a bid for the presidency in 2018 but withdrew from the race 1 1/2 months before the election, criticized the tribunal’s decision in a Twitter post.
“The ruling of the TEPJF against the registration of México Libre is regrettable. It’s unfair, unconstitutional and illogical,” she wrote before thanking the three judges who voted in favor of granting the movement party status.
In a video message posted to social media, Zavala accused President López Obrador of being behind the court’s decision.
“That a single man can use the institutions of the state to lynch his opponents and prevent them from competing in elections is a blow to the very heart of democracy,” she said.
Zavala, who many people believe is planning to run for the presidency again in 2024, rejected the finding that México Libre accepted donations from unidentified people.
“We received signatures [of support] from free and committed Mexicans and raised funds transparently and honestly [but] none of that was sufficient to defeat the authoritarianism that co-opts and subjugates the authorities that should be independent,” she said.
Calderón, who said previously that the donations in question were made via the payment platform Clip and the identity of the people who made them is known by the INE, described the TEPJF decision as “absurd.”
“Arbitrariness was perpetrated: the parties close to López Obrador … obtained their registration. [The registration of] México Libre, the only opposition voice, the only true citizens’ voice, was denied in the most absurd way. Authoritarianism advances,” he wrote on Twitter.
At his morning news conference on Thursday, López Obrador denied that he or anyone in his government was involved in the decisions to deny México Libre’s registration as a party.
“Before presidents decided who to give registration to or not, … that [practice] has now gone to the dustbin of history.”