Democracy is at stake in Mexico’s June 6 elections. And there are many reasons to worry | Opinion

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Mexico’s intermediate elections on June 6 have drawn almost zero interest from U.S. media. But these elections should be front-page news — they could determine the future of democracy in this most conflict-ridden U.S. neighbor.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, an old-guard populist nationalist, is not on the ballot. But if he retains an absolute majority in Mexico’s Congress, his ongoing attacks against Mexico’s justice system, independent electoral authorities, the media and non-government organizations will most likely turn Mexico into an increasingly authoritarian state.

Despite laws that prohibit him from interfering in local campaigns for the mid-term congressional and gubernatorial elections, Lopez Obrador has used his daily morning press conferences to lash out against opposition candidates.

In April, the president’s party, Morena, blatantly interfered with Mexico’s justice system by unilaterally extending the term of a key member of the Supreme Court, one who is Lopez Obrador’s close ally. The World Jurists Association called the move a threat to the rule of law.

Earlier, Lopez Obrador publicly asked that same justice to “launch an investigation” into a judge who had ruled against a government-sponsored energy-reform bill. López Obrador claimed that the judge was defending the interests of “the oligarchy.”

Just as troublesome, López Obrador had stepped up his verbal attacks against Mexico’s National Election Institute, the independent agency that monitors Mexico’s elections. The Institute was instrumental in helping Mexico’s transition to a full democracy in 2000 after seven decades of authoritarian rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI.)

Just like Donald Trump in the United States, Mexico’s president is now trying to discredit his country’s election authorities, preparing the ground to claim fraud in case he loses his congressional majority on June 6. Lopez Obrador has a long track record of claiming fraud after losing presidential bids in 2006 and 2012.

Also like Trump, Lopez Obrador constantly blames the media for everything that’s going wrong in Mexico.

When I asked Mexican historian Enrique Krauze recently what will happen if Lopez Obrador’s party wins a two-thirds absolute majority in Congress, he responded that it may further unleash the president’s authoritarian instincts.

“I’m concerned about the future of democracy and freedoms in Mexico, because he’s a president who has been very intolerant with criticism and who has a very dangerous tendency to concentrate power around himself,” Krauze told me.

Lopez Obrador, who started his political career as a member of the once-almighty PRI, has grabbed more powers than any of the party’s authoritarian rulers in the 20th century. While previous presidents who belonged to the PRI didn’t have full control of that party, Lopez Obrador “effectively owns” his Morena party, Krauze said.

Lopez Obrador has a poor record of achievement while in office. His battle against COVID-19 has been disastrous, in part because he minimized the virus for much of last year. Only 9 percent of Mexicans are have been fully vaccinated, compared with 41 percent of Chileans, 28 percent of Uruguayans, and 10 percent of Brazilians, according to the ourworldindata.org statistics

Mexico’s death toll from the virus is as high as 600,000 — three times higher than officially reported — and one of the highest in the world, according to a University of Washington School of Medicine study.

On the economy, Lopez Obrador had promised during the 2018 presidential campaign to deliver economic growth rates of 4 percent a year, but he drove growth to near zero even before the pandemic. Mexico’s homicide rate remains close to its 2019 record rates, dashing hopes that the virus would keep most criminals off the streets.

Yet, amazingly, Lopez Obrador retains a high popularity rate of between 56 percent and 61 percent. His daily claims — against all evidence — that Mexico is doing great, and his handouts to millions of Mexicans are working well for him, at least for now.

The latest polls for the June 6 elections show that the president’s Morena party is likely to maintain its majority in the 500-seat congress.

The big question is whether Morena will reach an absolute majority of two-thirds of congress that Lopez Obrador would need to change the constitution and grab additional powers.

If that happens, Mexico will return to its “imperial presidency.” There will be very few checks on the president’s powers, investors will feel unprotected against changes in the rules of the game, there will be more capital flight and Mexico will become a poorer country.

On June 6, all of that will be at stake.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 8 pm E.T. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting