MEXICO CITY – A day after tens of thousands of people protested against President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposal to overhaul Mexico’s electoral authority, the president gave no indication he would change course.
López Obrador said Sunday's demonstration -- the biggest against one of his proposals in his nearly four years in office -- was a kind of “striptease” revealing the intentions of Mexico’s conservatives. He estimated there were 50,000 to 60,000 protesters, an apparent undercount and well below the 200,000 estimated by the march’s organizers.
“They did it in favor of the privileges they had before the government I represent,” he said. “They did it in favor of corruption. They did it in favor of racism, in favor of classism and discrimination.”
The president said the demonstrators used the electoral reform as an “excuse” to protest and said they were really protesting “against the transformation taking place in the country.”
Despite the demonstration's size, analysts had little expectation that it would cause López Obrador to change course. Instead, they expected the president to use it to continue pushing the country's political polarization.
Opposition parties and civil society organizations had called on Mexicans to demonstrate Sunday against proposed electoral reforms that would remake the National Electoral Institute, one of the country’s most trusted institutions.
Protesters said they feared that López Obrador, who maintains high approval ratings and whose party controls more than half of the state governments, would use his proposed reforms would compromise the institute’s independence and make it more beholden to his party.
On Monday, López Obrador said his intention was the opposite: to protect and strengthen democracy.
The initiative includes eliminating state-level electoral offices, cutting public financing of political parties and allowing the public to elect members of the electoral authority rather than the lower chamber of Congress.
It would also reduce the number of legislators in the lower chamber of Congress from 500 to 300 and senators from 128 to 96 by eliminating at-large lawmakers. Those are not directly elected by voters, but appear on party lists and get seats based on their party’s proportion of the vote.
The proposal is expected to be discussed in Mexico’s Congress in coming weeks, where the president’s Morena party and allies hold an advantage.
Rubén Salazar, director of the Etellekt Consultants, said the march sent a message that the proposed reform did not have the support of a sufficient majority, but that López Obrador would use it to continue a polarizing dialogue “where he feels comfortable.”
Salazar saw the reform as part of a longer-term election strategy and a desire to make sure that López Obrador's party's candidate for president is victorious in 2024.