Mexicans took to the streets in some 50 cities Sunday to protest against the federal government’s proposed electoral reform, legislation that would replace the National Electoral Institute (INE) and state-based electoral authorities with one centralized body.
Approximately 500,000 people including leaders of opposition parties participated in demonstrations in 15 federal entities, according to an El Economista newspaper report that cited statistics provided by protest organizers and media outlets.
However, the number of people who protested the proposed reform in Mexico City — where the nation’s largest march was held — is hotly contested.
Martí Batres, a high-ranking official in the Mexico City government, tweeted from the capital’s security camera monitoring center that between 10,000 and 12,000 people took to the streets, while former president Felipe Calderón cited a vastly different “conservative” estimate of 500,000.
Citing figures given by civil society organizations that organized the march, El Economista reported that between 150,000 and 200,000 people marched from the Angel of Independence on Reforma Avenue to the Monument to the Revolution, located just outside Mexico City’s historic center.
Among the other cities where protests were held were Monterrey, Guadalajara, Morelia, Querétaro, Culiacán and Cancún.
Via signs they carried and slogans they chanted, protesters declared that the INE — known as the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) prior to 2014 — mustn’t be “touched.”
They also asserted that the proposed reform — currently under consideration by the Chamber of Deputies — won’t pass Congress.
That outcome appears likely as no opposition party supports the proposal and the ruling Morena party and its allies don’t have the two-thirds majority required to pass constitutional bills.
The reform bill proposes replacing the INE with a centralized authority to be called the National Elections and Consultations Institute. The new authority’s electoral councilors, as well as electoral tribunal judges, would be directly elected by citizens if the bill passes Congress.
Exactly half of the respondents to a recent Reforma newspaper poll said that President López Obrador and his Morena party want to dismantle the INE in order to “appropriate the new institute to control elections.”
The IFE oversaw Mexico’s transition to full democracy after the once-omnipotent Institutional Revolutionary Party dominated politics in the 20th century, a period in which the party’s success at elections was virtually guaranteed due to its own control of the electoral system.
La #Democracia es un valor que pertenece a toda la ciudadanía, sin distinción de partidos o ideologías. Todas las voces merecen ser escuchadas en un debate que deberá reconocer y fortalecer el trabajo del órgano electoral @INEMexico pic.twitter.com/YoPjW8b59Y
— Carla Humphrey (@C_Humphrey_J) November 13, 2022
The reform bill proposes a range of other measures, including cutting the funding of political parties and electoral authorities, and reducing the number of lawmakers in both houses of Congress.
At a rally at the conclusion of Sunday’s march in Mexico City, former IFE president José Woldenberg declared that protesters were demonstrating their “profound commitment” to democracy and defending “an electoral system that protects all of us and allows the co-existence of diversity, and the replacement of governments via pacific and participative means.”
“Mexico doesn’t deserve a constitutional electoral reform driven by a single will,” he charged, referring to López Obrador.
“… Mexico … mustn’t transfer the electoral register to another institution because the INE has excelled in the formulation of a reliable list,” Woldenberg said.
The former electoral official also said that upcoming elections “must have the same guarantees” as the most recent ones: a trustworthy register, a level playing field for candidates, impartiality of the officials organizing them, meticulous counting of votes and the announcement of preliminary results on the night voters went to the polls.
He questioned whether a centralized electoral institute would have the capacity to organize elections to elect officials for the different levels of governments, saying that state-based electoral authorities registered over 275,000 candidates in 2021 alone.
“With such numbers I ask you: Is it desirable and possible to concentrate, centralize and administer that political universe in a single institution?” Woldenberg asked, prompting a resounding “no” from his fellow protesters.
In a video message posted to social media after Sunday’s protests, INE president Lorenzo Córdova noted that hundreds of thousands of people came out to defend “our democracy and our electoral system in the face of the risk of an anti-democratic regression.”
“… The democracy and electoral system we have today are a collective work and asset of all citizens,” he said. “… Mexican democracy wasn’t built in a day nor is it the work of just one man, one party or one political force. It’s the product of multiple civil struggles against a hegemonic party regime, struggles against electoral fraud that characterized the anti-democratic past.”
The INE chief added that that “we can’t allow” the electoral authority to lose its constitutional autonomy “if we don’t want to return to the authoritarian past that we fortunately left behind.”
Córdova also said that, “at INE we watch on with enthusiasm and satisfaction … [as] citizens value and defend … [Mexico’s] democracy.”
More than half a million people have also signed a Change.org petition that denounces the proposed disbandment of the INE.
López Obrador, the key proponent of the electoral reform bill, declared Monday that those who participated in Sunday’s protests are opposed to the transformation his government is carrying out in Mexico. They protested “in favor of the privileges they had before the government I represent [took office], in favor of corruption, in favor of racism, classism and discrimination,” he said.
The president asserted that “not a lot” of people participated in the Mexico City march, claiming that the protesters didn’t go to the zócalo as they “wouldn’t have filled even half” of the capital’s central square.
He described the protest as a “political [and] public striptease of conservatism in Mexico,” adding that “this is very good because if this doesn’t surface it remains hidden and does a lot of damage [to efforts] to have a better, fairer, more equal, more fraternal society.”
Former president Vicente Fox, who joined the Mexico City protest, highlighted on his Twitter account that López Obrador pledged in 2020 that he would quit if 100,000 people protested against him. AMLO said at the time another prerequisite to him leaving office early was opinion polls showing that he has lost support. However, polls have consistently shown that he retains the support of a majority of citizens.