MEXICO CITY: Tens of thousands of Mexicans protested on Sunday (Feb 26) against an electoral reform approved by the ruling party-controlled Congress that is widely perceived as an attack on democracy ahead of 2024 presidential polls.
Political and civic organizations joined forces for the show of discontent, gathering on Mexico City’s main square, Zocalo, and in other cities under the slogan #MiVotoNoSeToca (Hands Off My Vote).
Dressed in white and pink, the colours of the National Electoral Institute (INE) they say is under threat, protesters denounced the majority move by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s backers to reduce the independent body’s size and budget.
“It is a setback to democracy … This man (Lopez Obrador) wants to control the election,” protester Alejandro Rodriguez, a lawyer age 61, told AFP.
“The reform attacks all our institutions, it wants to take away our freedoms,” added Feliciano Vidal, a 65-year-old independent worker.
A Bill the INE says will tarnish the credibility of elections was approved in the Senate Wednesday by 72 votes in favour to 50 against.
The legislation must now be enacted by the leftist president, who championed the change.
Former Supreme Court justice Juan Ramon Cossio, in an address to protesters Sunday, accused Lopez Obrador of seeking to “appropriate the electoral system”.
The presidential residence is on one side of Zocalo square, but Lopez Obrador was absent Sunday, touring Mexico’s interior.
The Bill is a watered-down version of more radical reforms he originally sought that sparked mass street protests against a perceived attack on the INE, designed to safeguard elections from political tampering.
The polling agency says the Bill – even the new version – endangered the electoral process.
It claims the changes would eliminate 85 per cent of its career staff, and scrap 300 district boards crucial to organizing elections for the country’s 93 million voters.
The measure, says the INE, would limit its ability to monitor election propaganda or to sanction public officials for transgressions.
Lopez Obrador alleges the INE endorsed fraud when he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2006 and 2012, before winning in 2018.
He argues the reform will improve the system, and has claimed the protests were being orchestrated by a group of “corrupt” people who want power for themselves.
The president, whose popularity hovers at about 60 percent, cannot seek reelection as the constitution bars more than one six-year term.
He has ruled out trying to change the constitution to stay in office, but is nevertheless keen to see his Morena party hold on to power.
The opposition vowed to challenge the reform in the Supreme Court, and former judge Cossio said Sunday he trusted his peers would overturn the Bill if it comes before them.