MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Huge crowds gathered across Mexico on Sunday to oppose the government’s push to curtail the independent electoral power, arguing the changes threaten democracy, in what appeared to be the biggest protests yet against the administration of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. .
Mexico City organizers said more than 500,000 people showed up, with video footage on social media showing the Zocalo’s central square filled with protesters. A nearby police officer said he had heard a figure of half a million, while others gave lower estimates.
Mexico’s Congress last week approved an overhaul of the National Electoral Institute, which Lopez Obrador has repeatedly attacked as corrupt and ineffective.
The president denies the changes will weaken Mexican democracy, but critics have vowed to take the legislation, which slashes the INSE’s budget and staff, to the Supreme Court.
Veronica Echevarría, a 58-year-old psychiatrist from Mexico City who was participating in the protest, said she worried that López Obrador’s reform of the INE was an attempt by him to control electoral power so he could stay in power.
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“We are fighting to defend our democracy,” she said, wearing a hat emblazoned with the words “Hands off INIS”.
She and thousands of others headed toward the Zocalo via the city’s Paseo de la Reforma on Sunday morning, many carrying Mexican flags and wearing pink, the color of the INES.
Shouts of “Get out Lopez!” It also rang periodically.
The National Electoral Institute and its predecessor played a major role in creating a pluralistic democracy that in the 2000s ended decades of one-party rule, according to several political analysts.
Fernando Belonzaran, an opposition politician who helped organize the protests, has warned of changes that weaken the electoral system and increase the risk of disputes engulfing the 2024 election when Lopez Obrad’s successor is chosen.
“Usually chiefs try to have governance and stability for their succession, but the chief creates uncertainty,” said Belonzaran. “He’s playing with fire.”
Pelonzaran said on Twitter on Sunday that there will be protests in more than 100 cities. He said more than 500,000 people had gathered in the capital to oppose the changes.
Mexican presidents may only serve one six-year term.
Angel Garcia, a 50-year-old Mexico City lawyer, said the demonstration was also “an appeal to the Supreme Court for the ruling that reform is a violation of the Constitution.”
He said that Sunday’s protest was one of the “last chances” to protect the INE, and that failure to do so would send Mexican democracy “back to the past”.
“Now or never,” he added.
López Obrador, a 69-year-old leftist who claims to have been robbed of the presidency twice before he won a landslide victory in the 2018 election, says the INES is too expensive and biased towards his opponents.
The institute denies this.
According to the National Elections Institute, reforming the president violates the constitution, limits the independence of the institute, and eliminates thousands of jobs designated to protect the electoral process, making it difficult to hold free and fair elections.
López Obrador has also weakened other independent bodies that check his authority on the grounds that they drain public funds and are hostile to his political project. He says that modifying his INE will save $150 million annually.
Polls show that President Morena’s Movement for National Renewal, which in a few years has become the dominant force in Mexico, is the strong candidate to win the 2024 election.
Over the years, the Zocalo has hosted numerous rallies in front of López Obrador, both as president and during his long career as a scourge of opposition to the Mexican establishment.
The 83-year-old at the protest, Antonio Mondragon, who said he voted for López Obrador in 2018, said people are tired of the president behaving like a “dictator.”
“We need to go back to democracy, because the guy is crazy,” Mondragon, a retired dentist from the capital, said of the president.
(Reporting by Dave Graham) Additional reporting by Diego Orr and Valentine Hillier Editing by Josie Kao, Diane Kraft, and Chris Reese
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