To stop President López Obrador from speaking about the upcoming elections, including promoting the ruling party and criticizing its opponents, the National Electoral Institute (INE) could go as far as arresting him, suggsted the secretary-general of the ruling Morena party.
López Obrador, who has already received one warning for violating INE rules on what he can and can’t say during the official campaign period in the lead-up to the June 6 elections, acknowledged that possibility himself on Monday morning when declining to respond to a question about whether he would propose a reform to reduce the cost of holding elections.
“… They [the INE] could fine me or even arrest me, so it’s better I don’t [comment],” the president told reporters at his regular news conference.
Citlalli Hernández, secretary-general of Morena — the party that López Obrador founded — claimed that the INE will seek to stop the president from making remarks about the election any way it can, including by having him detained, which is legally permitted for 36 hours as a last resort.
She accused INE president Lorenzo Córdova and councilor Ciro Murayama of being operatives of the National Action Party, Institutional Revolutionary Party and Democratic Revolution Party, which have formed an alliance to contest the June 6 elections at which the entire lower house of Congress will be renewed.
“It now turns out that the INE is threatening our president with arrest for speaking about various issues at his morning press conference. It’s outrageous that the electoral umpire doesn’t see what the opposition is doing to stop Morena’s advance,” Hernández said.
“On the contrary, Lorenzo Córdova and Ciro Murayama are taking sides to stop our movement. But let it be clear to this paid-off [electoral] umpire, let it be clear to the opposition: we are democrats determined to transform this country,” she said.
“… We say with complete clarity: we’re not going to allow them to attack democracy and attack hope.”
The INE issued López Obrador a warning last week for speaking about the government’s social programs at his morning press conference, or mañanera, on April 16.
The president spoke about matters related to “achievements and actions of the government,” the INE said, adding that his remarks “could be classified as government propaganda.”
The INE sent a document to López Obrador reminding him that, during the official campaign period — which runs from early April to early June — he is not permitted to speak about government achievements or pronounce his preference for one political party or alliance over another.
The president is also barred from commenting on the various parties’ political platforms, speaking about the internal machinations of parties and their electoral strategies, referring to specific candidates, talking about poll results and seeking to influence citizens about how to vote.
Complying with the rules is a challenge for López Obrador because he is accustomed to using his lengthy weekday press conferences to promote his administration and deliver blunt rebukes of government critics, including opposition parties.
In a media interview, INE councilor Claudia Zavala said that if the president again violates rules about what he can’t say, he could be issued with a formal reprimand. Further breaches could earn a fine of up to 708,500 pesos (US $35,650), she said Monday.
“The last measure … permitted in the legislation … is arrest for 36 hours,” Zavala said before acknowledging that the president has shown greater care at recent press conferences to ensure that he doesn’t fall foul of the law.
At his mañanera on Monday, López Obrador said that one thing he wouldn’t stop speaking about was the state of democracy because Mexico is “the country with the most electoral frauds in history.”
The president, who claims that he was robbed of the presidency at the 2006 and 2012 elections, said that one of the changes needed is to have impartial electoral authorities rather than ones that are on the side of the “conservative party.”
López Obrador recently clashed with the INE after it barred two Morena party candidates from contesting elections for governor in Guerrero and Michoacán because they failed to report their pre-campaign spending.
He called the INE’s decision an “attack on democracy” and pledged to present an initiative after this year’s elections to reform the electoral body to ensure that it is “truly autonomous and independent.”