Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) always asks for more. The country’s Supreme Court opened the door for him to carry out in 2021 his proposed referendum on whether to prosecute five former Mexican Presidents. By changing the wording of the original referendum’s question, a majority of justices thought it was doing enough to protect the basic human rights of the former Presidents. But AMLO does not care about it. In each one of his morning press conferences, AMLO will ask the Mexican electorate the question originally posed by him. What will the Supreme Court do to stop him?
The next step in AMLO’s electoral plan is already in the works. AMLO needs the referendum to be held on the same day as Mexico’s 2021 midterm election. That is why he had originally proposed for that day a different referendum asking Mexicans whether he should complete his six-year term. Mexican opposition parties were able to delay this referendum until the first quarter of 2022, way after the 2021 midterm election has passed.
Contrary to what AMLO wants now, the Mexican Congress passed a law last year establishing that the date for any referendum could only be held on the first Sunday in August 2021. This is almost two months after the date of Mexico’s crucial midterm election (June 6, 2021).
Under the pretext that Mexico could save money if the midterm election and the referendum on the five former Mexican Presidents were held on the same day, AMLO’s party (Morena) has already proposed a reform to the Mexican Constitution in order for it to happen. If they really cared about not wasting money, the better thing would be if the referendum does not take place. I can already foresee the result: the YES vote (on whether past actions of Mexican political actors should be investigated) will win. All Mexicans agree on the fact that our officials should be legally and politically responsible for their decisions.
One of the central pillars of Mexico’s elections law is that no public official can take part in political campaigns. Back in 2006, the Mexican Electoral Tribunal said that some statements made by then President Vicente Fox had put the election at risk.
AMLO is now the President. He does not want to remain silent. He said it last week during one his lengthy daily press conferences: “My protective shield is this (press) conference”.
The President wants to keep all the marbles. Slowly, AMLO has been weaving his plan. He knows that, given the enormous corruption of the Mexican past, many political actors are often sensitive to just a little pressure from the executive branch to not fulfill their responsibilities. That is why the current government has eluded presenting formal charges against those accused of wrongdoing. Instead, AMLO fundamentally employs pressure on them. This is not something resembling to justice. Under AMLO, one can expect him using the Mexican Attorney General’s office (FGR) or the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to go after people.
It appears that earlier in October the executive branch exerted a pressure against those Mexican Supreme Court justices who voted in favor to allow the referendum to go ahead. Now, AMLO will surely try to go over some Senators belonging to opposition parties.
Mexican opposition parties together (PAN, PRI, PRD and MC) add up to a total of 49 members in Mexico’s Upper Chamber of Congress. This is six more Senators more than those needed to block a Constitutional reform. In 2018, 43.4% of the Mexican electorate voted for opposition parties’ Senators. Additionally, the PVEM was not part of AMLO’s original winning coalition and their share of the vote was 4.4%. In sum, Mexican voters wanted the Senate to serve as check to the executive branch.
It is in the interest of Mexico’s opposition parties not to hold the 2021 midterm elections on the same day as the referendum on the five former Mexican Presidents. If any of the opposition Senators breaks ranks and vote in favor of AMLO’s party constitutional reform proposal, Mexicans will know who made a deal to save himself without worrying about the country.
If AMLO’s party is successful and manages to hold both the 2021 midterm election and the referendum on the same day it would be outrageous. The Constitution is clear: There cannot be changes to election law once the electoral season has started. Formally, the 2021 electoral season in Mexico started on September 7th.
Changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game violates basic principles of fairness. I do not remember a legal reform so grossly against the Constitution.
In many countries, the highest court of the land serves as a mechanism of constitutional control both formally and substantially. It is not correct to play with the fundamental structure of the Constitution.
This does not seem Mexico’s case. The current Supreme Court will argue that it has nothing to say if someone breaches the fundamental principles of the Mexican Constitution. After its decision on the referendum earlier this month, the Supreme Court will not dare to change a comma to any Constitutional reform to hold the referendum and the midterm election on the same day.
President AMLO only cares about having all the political and economic resources available when the 2021 midterm election arrives. He needs them to be able to defend its majority in Mexico’s Lower House of Congress and thus protect his power to do and undo at will.
* Carlos Elizondo Mayer-Serra is professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico City. A Spanish version of this Op-Ed appeared first in Reforma’s newspaper print edition. Twitter: @carloselizondom