Top foreign policy lawmakers accuse López Obrador of trying ‘to sabotage Mexico’s democratic institutions’

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The heads of the House and Senate foreign policy committees on Friday issued a bipartisan condemnation of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s efforts to defund his country’s electoral authority.

“As Chairs of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee, we reject President López Obrador’s repeated attempts to sabotage Mexico’s democratic institutions,” said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) in a joint statement.

The criticism comes two days after the Mexican Senate approved an electoral reform widely known as “Plan B” that would starve the country’s elections authority, the Instituto Nacional Electoral (INE), a stalwart of Mexico’s longest period of electoral democracy.

The “Plan B” approach, spearheaded by López Obrador’s party in the country’s Congress, came after it was unable to pass a constitutional amendment that would have fully dismantled the INE.

“By approving President López Obrador’s proposal to slash the National Electoral Institute’s funding and oversight capabilities, the Mexican Congress has imperiled the future of its country’s democratic institutions,” Menéndez and McCaul said.

The lawmakers compared López Obrador’s moves to the pseudo-democratic regime that held Mexico under one-party rule for most of the 20th century and warned of its effects on bilateral affairs.

“Returning Mexico to its dark past of presidentially controlled elections not only sets the clock back on its democracy, but also U.S.-Mexico relations,” they said.

The INE was created in 1990, essentially reverse-engineering a complex infrastructure of electoral fraud built by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), the party that held power from 1929 to 2000.

López Obrador, who got his start in politics as a PRI apparatchik before leaving the party with a left-leaning splinter group in 1988, has often voiced disdain for the INE.

López Obrador’s main beef with the electoral authority likely stems from the 2006 presidential election, which he lost to former President Felipe Calderón by less than 300,000 votes.

Still, López Obrador, a budget hawk, argues that Mexico’s billion-dollar electoral system is wasteful and that the money would be better spent on social programs.

The INE’s defenders say it is an essential institution for Mexico to continue on a democratic track.

“The people of Mexico deserve an independent electoral authority capable of conducting free and fair elections and to be governed by leaders who respect the rule of law,” said Menéndez and McCaul.

“In spite of his hope to be remembered as a democrat and champion for the country’s most vulnerable, President López Obrador’s ongoing efforts to undermine INE’s autonomy and independence will assuredly cement his legacy as just the opposite.”

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