The United States is not the only North American democracy threatened by a president’s belief that he is a victim of vote-rigging. In Mexico, left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador lost the 2006 presidential election by less than a percentage point, yelled fraud and refused to back down even after courts unanimously rejected his claims, and mobilized supporters to shut down a busy thoroughfare in the country’s capital To block. Although Mr. López Obrador eventually relented and presidents of other parties ruled until 2018, he remained obsessed with 2006. Now that he’s president – having won an uncontested election in 2018 – Mr López Obrador is keen to overhaul the electoral system, which he still blames for betraying him more than 16 years ago.
The president’s proposals threaten the independence of the system and with it Mexico’s hard-won transition from authoritarianism to multiparty democracy. The key institution Mr. López Obrador wants to transform – the National Electoral Institute – signed his victory in 2018. Nonetheless, he portrays the body, known by his Spanish-language initials INE, as biased, elitist and wasteful of taxpayers’ money Congress and the Supreme Court would each select about 20; They would serve for six years, the length of a presidential term in Mexico. The vulnerability of such a panel to politicization is obvious. In contrast, the current INE consists of 11 members, selected for their expertise by a nominating committee and then confirmed by a two-thirds majority of Congress; They serve nine years each. Opinion polls show that a sizeable majority of Mexicans support the work of the INE. A recent European Union fact-finding mission concluded that Mexico’s existing system works and enjoys public trust – and that Mr López Obrador’s plan “has an inherent risk of undermining that trust.”
More and more Mexicans rightly suspect that Mr. López Obrador is attempting to maintain his party’s dominance even after his term ends in 2024, mimicking the authoritarian system that prevailed under the Institutional Revolutionary Party in the 20th century. On November 13, tens of thousands of people marched through Mexico City and other cities to protest the president’s plan. Mr López Obrador branded them defenders of class and racial privileges – and then mobilized his supporters, many of whom had bused in from outlying regions, for a counter-demonstration in Mexico City on Sunday to show power during the country’s Congress examines the topic. Though the president likely lacks a two-thirds majority to change the constitution, he has announced that he will seek to achieve his goals through legislation that requires only a simple majority.
The Biden administration, the US Congress and the US public in general should be indifferent to these developments. The United States has many interests — trade, energy, migration, drug smuggling — in Mexico, but none is more important than the thriving of democracy. Next month’s summit of North American leaders with Mr. López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will provide President Biden with an opportunity to deliver that message personally and unequivocally.
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