A day after hosting Mexico’s electoral councilors at the National Palace, President López Obrador declared Wednesday that a “new stage” has begun in the federal government’s relationship with the National Electoral Institute (INE).
López Obrador met on Tuesday with all 11 INE councilors, including President Guadalupe Taddei Zavala, who succeeded Lorenzo Córdova in April.
It was the first time that the president has met with the country’s top electoral officials since taking office in late 2018.
López Obrador was a fierce critic of the INE while it was under Córdova’s leadership, and his government recently approved an electoral reform package that slashed the institute’s funding and diminished its capacity to sanction politicians who violate electoral laws.
Government critics have argued that the reform package – the first part of which was invalidated by the Supreme Court (SCJN) last month and the second part of which was suspended in March — significantly weakens the INE, Mexico’s elections oversight body.
With Taddei rather than Córdova now at the helm, the president’s view of the INE has significantly softened.
At his morning news conference on Wednesday, López Obrador said that he had a “very good” conversation with the INE councilors and that the shared goal of the institute and the government is to “make democracy a reality.”
He said on Tuesday that that he believed there were “excellent conditions” to start a “new stage” in the government’s relationship with the INE, and asserted Wednesday that that stage had begun.
“Yesterday I told the INE people that I’m not going to be telling them what to do — they’re independent, they’re autonomous,” López Obrador said.
“They should just act democratically and not become employees of oligarchs like the INE was before,” he said.
On social media on Tuesday, López Obrador wrote that “democracy must be established in Mexico forever.”
“Never again kratos (power) without demos (people),” he added.
Interior Minister Adán Augusto López Hernández, who also attended the talks, said on Twitter that “a new chapter in the country’s democratic life is being written” thanks to the government’s engagement with the INE councilors.
“We’re advancing together in the task of positioning the people at the center of national public life,” he added.
Taddei — who has family links to the federal government and the ruling Morena party — told reporters that the meeting with López Obrador was “highly productive.”
“Respect is requested, respect is given; the respect is from both parties,” the INE president said.
Taddei said a range of issues were discussed at the meeting, including the INE’s budget and its autonomy.
“The budget is being drawn up based on the Austerity Law and following all the budgetary rules that exist,” she said before asserting that the funding will be “exactly what the institute needs.”
López Obrador doesn’t need to promise to respect the INE’s autonomy because “it’s a reality that has to happen,” Taddei added.
Another issue Taddei said was discussed at the meeting was a complaint filed by the Citizens Movement (MC) party against Morena that alleges that the ruling party’s presidential candidate selection process violates electoral laws.
“That’s an issue that the [INE] complaints commission has to analyze,” she said.
Taddei also said that the INE councilors will attend future meetings with other federal government officials that work in areas such as security and welfare.
Meetings with the government are needed, she said, to establish what can and can’t be done within the electoral landscape that the government sought to modify through its so-called Plan B reform package, only to have the SCJN strike down or suspend its constituent parts.
The electoral councilors’ meeting with López Obrador came less than a year before Mexicans will go to the polls to elect thousands of political representatives across Mexico, including a new president, governors of nine states and federal deputies and senators.
In a statement, the INE said that its councilors told López Obrador that over 98 million Mexicans will be eligible to vote next year.
The INE also said that the councilors “confirmed their commitment to strengthen dialogue and collaboration” with the federal government in the lead-up to the June 2, 2024, elections and the official electoral period, which begins in September.
“The federal government requires a strong and solid election organizing body, and the institute, in turn, requires a government that attends to budgetary, security and other issues within its power,” Taddei said at the meeting, according to the statement.
Andrés López Muñoz, a political analyst, asserted that López Obrador’s aim in meeting with the INE councilors is to “bend” them to his will.
“He already has the president of the INE; she’s from his team. Therefore he needs to bend the other councilors [so] that the INE is subordinate to the presidency,” he said.
“… He wants to have complete control over the electoral process,” López added.
Héctor Saúl Téllez Hernández, a National Action Party deputy, said before Tuesday’s meeting that it appeared that the INE councilors were going to “pay homage” to the president at the National Palace.
“We would have liked the meeting to be public, held in a neutral place, and for the president to provide guarantees of respect for democracy in our country,” he said.