Massive crowds gathered across Mexico on Sunday to oppose the government’s drive to curtail independent electoral powers, arguing that the changes threaten democracy, in what was seen as the biggest protest yet against the rule of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Organizers said more than 500,000 people took part in Mexico City, with video footage on social media showing the central Zócalo square filled with protesters. A police officer nearby said he had heard a figure of half a million, while others gave lower estimates.
Mexico’s Congress last week approved a major overhaul of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which López Obrador has repeatedly attacked as corrupt and incompetent.
The president denies the changes will undermine Mexican democracy, but critics have vowed to take legislation that cuts the INE’s budget and staff to the Supreme Court.
Veronica Echevarría, a 58-year-old psychologist from Mexico City who attended the protest, said López Obrador’s overhaul of the INE has worried him about staying in power as he tries to take control of the electoral authority.
“We are fighting to defend our democracy,” he said, wearing a cap with the words “Hands of the INE”.
She and thousands of others converged on the Zocalo through the city’s Paseo de la Reforma boulevard on Sunday morning, many of them holding Mexican flags and wearing the pink of the INE.
“Lopez out!” There were also shouts from time to time.
According to many political analysts, the INE and its predecessor played a key role in creating a pluralistic democracy that ended decades of one-party rule in 2000.
Fernando Belaunjarán, an opposition politician who helped organize the protests, warned that the changes undermined the electoral system and increased the risk of disputes over choosing a successor to López Obrador in the 2024 elections.
“Usually presidents try to have governance and stability for their succession, but the president is creating uncertainty,” Belaunjaran said. “He’s playing with fire.”
Protests will be held in more than 100 cities, Belaunjaran said on Twitter on Sunday. He said more than 500,000 people had gathered in the capital to oppose the changes.
Mexican presidents can only serve six-year terms.
Angel Garcia, a 50-year-old Mexico City lawyer, said the demonstration “is a plea to the Supreme Court to rule that it is a violation of the Constitution.”
He said Sunday’s protest was one of the “last chances” to defend the INE, and failure to do so would send Mexican democracy “backwards.”
“It’s now or never,” he added.
López Obrador, a 69-year-old leftist, was robbed of the presidency twice before finally winning the 2018 election in a landslide, arguing that the INE is too expensive and biased in favor of his opponents.
The organization denies this.
According to INE, the president’s overhaul violates the constitution, restricts the institute’s independence and eliminates thousands of jobs dedicated to protecting the electoral process, making it difficult to hold free and fair elections.
López Obrador has weakened other autonomous bodies that check his authority, draining them of public funds and hostile to his political plan. He says his INE shake-up will save $150 million a year.
Polls show that the president’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which has become a powerful force in Mexico in just a few years, is a strong favorite to win the 2024 elections.
Lopez Obrador has hosted many rallies in front of him over the years in his long career as president of the Zocalo and a scourge of the Mexican establishment opposition.
At the protest, 83-year-old Antonio Mondragon, who said he voted for López Obrador in 2018, argued that people were fed up with the president acting “like a dictator”.
“We need to return to democracy, because the man is going mad,” Mondragon, a retired dentist from the capital, said of the president.
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