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López Obrador’s Morena party aims to lift ban on political speech during self-imposed election silence

The election silence was part of the law authorizing the president's revocation of mandate vote. Now the same legislators who passed that law are moving to amend it.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s federal Chamber of Deputies passed a bill Thursday that would allow politicians to express political opinions despite a ban on such speech during electoral campaigns. 

The vote to pass the bill represented the stark polarization of Mexican politics, with 267 votes in favor from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party, along with deputies from the Labor and Ecological Green Parties.

Voting in opposition were 210 deputies from the National Action Party (PAN), Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Citizens’ Movement and Party of the Democratic Revolution.

Despite the straight party-line vote, Morena Deputy Juan Ramiro Robledo Ruiz, head of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, called the issue one of “legal constitutional character, of course political, but not partisan.”

The objective of the bill, according to Morena Deputy Sergio Carlos Gutiérrez Luna, President of the Chamber of Deputies, is “to interpret the reach of government propaganda, … the principle of impartiality … and the application of sanctions” in federal election laws.

Opposing deputies decried the bill as unconstitutional, claiming that the Congress is endowed with powers to interpret laws, but not change them. 

“We cannot allow this Chamber of Deputies to be transformed into an institution that violates the constitutional framework and which, by means of the erroneous interpretation of this article … directly benefits the executive branch,” said PRI Deputy Marcela Guerra Castillo. 

The bill, which now heads to the Senate for approval, could open the door for President López Obrador to engage in political discourse during his daily morning press conferences, despite a law enforcing election silence ahead of his revocation of mandate vote set for April 10. 

“It is the president who is at the center of debate, because of his manner of answering [criticism] and disseminating his work, which many people do not like,” said Robledo. 

While the text of the bill appears to liberate deputies and senators from the “gag” of election silence laws, the proposed legislation will surely open up discussion about the what the president can and cannot say publicly en route to April 10, according to Enrique Gutiérrez Márquez, a political scientist at the Ibero-American University.

“That’s the legal interpretation of the bill, but politically this is clearly positioning by Morena in support of the president by putting limits on how the INE (National Electoral Institute) can regulate political speech,” said Gutiérrez. 

Political analyst Carlos Bravo Regidor called the bill “clearly unconstitutional,” since it is the job of the Supreme Court, not the Congress, to interpret legislation.

“This goes to show just how much disregard the president’s coalition has for constitutional rules. It was López Obrador’s supporters who legislated the revocation of mandate vote in the first place. So it’s amazing to see that the very coalition that created this law is now trying to change it by means that it has no authority to do so,” said Bravo. 

On Friday, the INE ordered the removal of all publicly displayed advertisements promoting the April 10 referendum, citing it as “propaganda considered to transgress the Constitution” with regards to the revocation of mandate.

However, rather than a response to Thursday’s action by Congress, the initiative was most likely a preemptive strike ahead of the sanctions taken by the INE on Friday.

“The INE can carry this order out independently of what Congress does,” said Bravo. “I’d imagine that Congress knew that the INE was going to implement these sanctions, and therefore they passed the initiative. It’s the other way around.”

The bill now moves on to the Senate, which will most likely take it up for a vote next week. While Gutiérrez expected it to pass thanks to Morena's majority in the upper house, Bravo pointed to its apparent unconstitutionality as reason for his prediction that the Senate will not approve it.

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