A president seemingly still preoccupied with his own false allegations of past electoral fraud uses the power of the federal government to undermine democracy.
That may sound familiar to detractors of Donald Trump in the U.S., but it’s how critics are describing a different leader in North America: Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
In the hours after Mexico’s Congress approved historic changes to the country’s election authority, late Wednesday, the criticism has been swift and phrased in dire terms — that Mexico’s democracy itself is at stake — which López Obrador has rejected, describing the moves as needed reform for an out-of-touch organization.
But the critics are missing one key constituent: the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.
On Wednesday, Mexico’s Senate approved changes backed by López Obrador to the National Election Institute, known by its initials in Spanish as the INE. The independent authority is beloved by many Mexicans for its role in securing free and fair elections and transitioning the country away from nearly a century of the one-party rule just over two decades ago.
The new legislation, which Mexico’s lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, passed in December and which López Obrador is expected to soon sign into law ahead of likely legal challenges, will cut the INE’s budget, hamstring its ability to penalize candidates for campaign finance violations and loosen rules on public officials campaigning while in office.
By the INE’s own estimates, those budget cuts will force it to cut as much as 85% of its staff. That could mean fewer polling places or less secure electoral rolls — real impacts on the agency’s ability to credibly administer federal elections, according to analysts.
Lorenzo Cordova, head of the INE, has criticized the legislation, which comes the year before Mexico’s next presidential race.
“Mexico’s electoral system was set up after decades of one-party rule with strict controls to prevent the government from meddling in elections. Now the government is rolling back some of those controls. These drastic changes to the election rules will benefit the president’s party and make it harder for opposition parties to get a fair shot in the upcoming elections,” Tyler Mattiace, Human Rights Watch’s Mexico, and Central America researcher, concluded.