Friday, July 12, 2024

President López Obrador presents 20 constitutional reform proposals

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on Monday outlined a package of 20 constitutional reform proposals, most of which have little or no chance of passing Congress in the near term as the ruling Morena party and its allies don’t have a two-thirds majority in Congress.

As announced last month, López Obrador made use of Mexico’s Constitution Day to present a raft of changes he would like to make to the nation’s foremost legal document.

President López Obrador unveiled his raft of proposed changes to Mexico’s founding document on Constitution Day, although few are likely to be approved by Congress in the near future. (Andrea Murcia/Cuartoscuro)

Among his motivations for presenting the proposals at a time when he knows most of them are doomed to fail are to have a bearing on the June 2 elections, and to set the agenda for his likely successor, according to analysts.

Among the 20 proposals López Obrador outlined in a 42-minute address at the National Palace — some of which have multiple aims — are ones to:

  • Guarantee that annual minimum salary increases outpace inflation.
  • Overhaul the pension system so that retired workers receive pensions equivalent to 100% of their final salaries.
  • Allow citizens to directly elect Supreme Court justices and other judges.
  • Eliminate numerous autonomous government agencies.
  • Reduce the number of federal lawmakers and the amount of money spent on elections and funding political parties.
  • Incorporate the National Guard into the military.
  • Ban fracking and genetically modified corn — the latter of which is a source of conflict between Mexico and the United States.

“The reforms I propose seek to establish constitutional rights and strengthen ideals and principles related to humanism, justice, honesty, austerity and democracy,” said López Obrador.

The president — a frequent critic of the judiciary who has made extensive use of the military during his presidency and who allegedly wants weaken autonomous institutions to concentrate power in the executive — also said his proposals are aimed at “modifying the content of anti-popular articles” in the constitution that were “introduced during the neoliberal period.”

He defines that period as the 36 years between 1982 and 2018, during which four Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and two National Action Party (PAN) presidents were in office.

The constitutional reform package outlined by López Obrador and delivered to the lower house of Congress by Interior Minister Luisa María Alcalde also includes proposals to provide “preferential” treatment to indigenous and Afro-Mexican peoples; guarantee government pensions for senior citizens and disabled people; grant scholarships to students from poor families and guarantee “comprehensive” and free medical care to “all residents of Mexico,” according to the president’s speech.

One of the reform proposals would allow Supreme Court justices to be popularly elected. (SCJN)

In addition, López Obrador is seeking to modify the constitution to guarantee the right for workers to own their homes; prohibit the mistreatment of animals; limit water use in areas of scarcity to that for domestic purposes; prohibit the sale of vapes “and chemical drugs such as fentanyl”; and enshrine “republican austerity” as “a state policy.”

The train-loving and staunchly nationalistic president also wants to ensure that passenger trains will always be permitted to run on Mexico’s vast rail network — most of which is currently only used by freight trains — and that the state-owned electricity utility, the CFE, will remain a “strategic public company” that operates for the benefit of domestic customers and in the “national interest.”

Some of the constitutional reform proposals López Obrador presented are already supported by government policies and laws, but enshrining them in the constitution would give them added protection, and thus “avoid any anti-popular setback in the future,” in the president’s words.

The president has made the revival of Mexico’s passenger rail network a priority policy. (@lopezobrador_/X)

Other proposals — such as putting the National Guard under the control of the army — were implemented by the current federal government, but subsequently struck down by the Supreme Court.

AMLO’s motivations

According to Mariana Campos, head of the think tank México Evalúa, López Obrador is seeking to obtain “political benefits” by proposing “financially unviable” constitutional reforms that the opposition will reject.

If the proposed reforms are rejected by Congress during the campaign period, the president will effectively demonstrate that his initiatives can only be approved if voters support congressional candidates affiliated with the ruling Morena party and its allies en masse on June 2.

Constitutional reform proposals cannot pass Congress unless they are supported by two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses — a supermajority Morena and its allies don’t have now, but could have as of Sept. 1 if they perform extremely well in the congressional elections.

Campos also said that the presentation of the reforms is “a way to set the agenda” for his “possible” successor, which recent poll results indicate will be Claudia Sheinbaum, Morena’s candidate.

AMLO Texcoco
President López Obrador still enjoys significant support from the general public. (Presidencia/Cuartoscuro)

Similarly, analyst and writer Viri Ríos wrote in the Milenio newspaper that “López Obrador is presenting these reforms to set the path for what he believes Claudia’s sexenio [six-year term of government] should be.”

She asserted that an electoral “reading” of the president’s motivation is “mistaken,” writing that “thinking that Mexicans will decide their vote based on a massive short-term legislative discussion” is overly “romantic.”

“… A Mexican doesn’t decide his or her vote that way,” Ríos said, adding that the “main determinant” is the “emotional affinity (or emotional rejection)” some voters have for López Obrador.

The president himself said Tuesday that he presented the reform proposals at this time “because the elections are coming and the people will decide” whether they should be in the constitution or not.

The elections, he added, are not about “which candidate wins” or “which party [or] alliance wins” but about making a decision about a political “project.”

López Obrador frequently says that citizens have to choose between a continuation of the “transformation” project he and his government initiated and a return to the past, a time when he asserts that corruption was rife under PRI and PAN governments that were more interested in looking after their own interests and those of Mexico’s elite than governing for everyday Mexicans.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is a close ally of López Obrador, who has lauded her work as mayor.
Some analysts see the reform package as an outline for a Claudia Sheinbaum government, should she win the presidency for Morena in June. (Gobierno de CDMX)

Lawmakers with the PAN, PRI and the Democratic Revolution Party — which together form a political alliance that is backing Xóchitl Gálvez in the presidential election — have claimed that the president’s aim in presenting his package of constitutional reforms is to influence the outcome of the upcoming elections.

The only proposal that the opposition has indicated it will support is to change the pension system so that workers receive their full working salaries in retirement — “something done by no other country, not even those much richer than Mexico,” according to an Associated Press report.

López Obrador said Monday that a 64.6 billion peso (US $3.8 billion) “seed fund” will be created this year to “repair the damage to workers” inflicted by pension systems implemented by two former presidents. The fund will increase “little by little” to support higher pensions for retired workers, he said.

Campos said bluntly that the president’s proposed pension plan “doesn’t have financial viability.”

Sheinbaum — who has a 16-point lead over Gálvez, according to a recent El Financiero poll — expressed support for the reform proposals presented by López Obrador on Monday, saying they would “strengthen rights, freedoms and democracy” in Mexico, “which is the essence of our project.”

With reports from Milenio, El Financiero and Reforma

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