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Mexico’s Democracy: We Are Still Standing

Carlos Heredia

Don't you know I'm still standin' better than I ever did? 

Lookin' like a true survivor, feelin' like a little kid

Elton John, I’m Still Standing, 1983.

On February 26, 2023 (26-F) there was a huge demonstration in the Mexico City Zócalo in defense of our fragile democracy.  Hundreds of thousands showed up at squares in over 100 cities throughout Mexico, and 8 countries, including the United States, namely in Austin, Brownsville, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, and Washington DC. 

Three ‘Cs’ describe key actors in this process: Citizens who uphold the Constitution, and the Court which will review President López Obrador’s ‘Plan B’ legal reforms (after Plan ‘A’, a constitutional reform, lacked enough votes), which intends to undermine the autonomous election board, the Instituto Nacional Electoral, known by its acronym INE.

So many times since the early 1980s I participated in marches and demonstrations to demand that elections were organized by an autonomous body, and not by the PRI-Government, that for seven decades dominated Mexican politics.  In many of those demonstrations, a young, up-and-coming political leader from the state of Tabasco was cutting his teeth opposing the almighty machine of the PRI, which seemed unbeatable. 

The perseverance of the fight for democracy was crucial in the creation of the autonomous election agency, first the Instituto Federal Electoral (1990) and then the INE (2014).  López Obrador founded his party, Morena, in 2011, and it was under INE’s watch that he won the presidency of Mexico in 2018 by a landslide.   

It is also under this credible, professional INE that Morena has won 22 out of 32 governorships. It is under its authority that Morena reached majorities in Mexico’s Lower House (Cámara de Diputados) and Senate.  No conflict whatsoever, no post-election disputes resulted from those elections.

So why would López Obrador want to undermine the INE that oversaw the election that allowed him to reach the country’s highest office?

Because it is becoming increasingly clear that under the watch of this INE, the opposition could win on June 2, 2024.  It may look like a very long shot now, when the election is still 15 months out –all the polls overwhelmingly favor Morena and its potential candidates-  but he seems to fear the tide may turn.  

If the election agency is undermined   -as AMLO’s reform intends to backtrack 33 years and give the government once again the upper hand over elections- then he will be able to install not only Morena’s standardbearer, but his sucesor, the next president, as a shoo-in.

What was new about the 26-F demonstration? 

The irony that this time around, some of us who fought alongside AMLO against the manipulation of the citizens’ vote by the PRI, were in the Zócalo protesting against the attempted blow to democracy, while the man inside the National Palace was protected by makeshift metal walls at its gates, against the peaceful demonstration of his fellow citizens who demand loud and clear ‘don’t mess with my vote’.

López Obrador now has by his side Manuel Bartlett, who was the head of the rogue election commision that operated the 1988 steal of the presidential election against Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.  In a sharp contrast, AMLO has repeatedly lambasted José Woldenberg and José Ramón Cossío.  The former is a political science professor at the National University UNAM, who was the head of IFE when the 2000 citizen vote dislodged the PRI after 71 years in office, and the keynote speaker in the pro-democracy demonstration of November 13, 2022.  The latter is a former Supreme Court justice (2003 to 2018) and current Law Professor, who delivered the keynote address on 26-F and clearly stated that AMLO’s legal reforms violate the principles of equity and certainty, and thus should be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

The ball is now precisely in the court of Mexico’s top Court. 

It is AMLO who has put aside his oath to protect and defend Mexico’s Constitution and democracy.  Woldenberg, Cossío, and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators are here to remind him just that.  Will he listen?

About the Author

Carlos Heredia

Carlos Heredia

Global Fellow & Advisory Board Member, Mexico Institute;
Associate Professor, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE)
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more