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Mexico Senate approves controversial electoral reform

The so-called "Plan B" reform was passed through the Chamber of Deputies a week earlier by the Morena party and its allies after the constitutional amendment President López Obrador originally wanted failed to receive a two-thirds supermajority vote.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s Senate Wednesday approved a hot-button legislative reform meant to overhaul the country’s national electoral system.

The bill passed in a 69 to 53 vote after nearly five hours of debate on the Senate floor. It aims to change three existing election laws and create one new one in what the ruling Morena party claims will streamline the National Electoral Institute (INE).

Morena party lawmakers and their allies approved the so-called "Plan B" reform in the Chamber of Deputies last week after the constitutional amendment President Andrés Manuel López Obrador originally wanted failed to receive a two-thirds supermajority vote. 

Opponents decry it as an unconstitutional attempt by Morena to consolidate power and claim it will weaken the country’s electoral infrastructure.

In what is shaping up to be a habit of going against the current of his own party, Senate Majority Leader and 2024 presidential hopeful Ricardo Monreal voted against the reform, saying he believes it to be unconstitutional.

“Let me clarify that this is a strictly personal matter, it does not involve the parliamentary group in which I participate,” Monreal said. “The only thing I want is for the Constitution to be respected.”

Opposition Senators framed the debate as a choice between democracy and authoritarianism.

Senator Damián Zepeda Vidales of the National Action Party (PAN) began the debate by calling the bill the result of a “tantrum” by López Obrador and lambasting the speed with which it was passed in the Chamber of Deputies.

PAN Senator Indira de Jesús Rosales San Román couched her argument in generational terms. The 35-year-old lawmaker from Veracruz highlighted the three peaceful transfers of power Mexico has seen during her lifetime, which she attributed to the INE and its predecessor the Federal Electoral Institute, which was founded in 1990.

“The majority of you feel extremely comfortable with this reform because you come from the past, it’s what you know and what you hope to perpetuate,” she said. 

The tension-riddled session was not without its theatrics. At one point, PAN Senator Xóchitl Gálvez interrupted a fellow lawmaker’s speech by entering the auditorium in an inflatable T-Rex costume, holding a sign with a world-famous logo and the text: “Jurassic Plan.”

Senators who spoke in support of the bill painted a picture of an imperfect organ of government that still needs cleaning up from the corruption of previous administrations.

In an impassioned speech laying out her party's position, Morena Senator Ana Lilia Rivera said the INE is "more like a conservative political faction than a constitutional mandate of impartial arbitration." She attributed allegations of overspending and overstepping of authority to the INE's "subterfuge of autonomy."

The 11-member INE Advisory Board held a press conference ahead of Wednesday’s vote to express the institution’s objection to the reform. Advisory Board President Lorenzo Córdova said it has “deficiencies that put the operation of electoral processes in danger.”

Córdova warned that the reform aims to eliminate almost 85% of professional electoral positions and subdelegates, putting both the efficiency and efficacy of the system at risk. 

“The tone we’re taking is not one of confrontation, it’s a call to reflection and to safeguard what we have done right in our country in the last three decades,” he said, adding that such achievements include “true and trustworthy electoral processes that have yielded legitimate results and allowed for the highest rate of transfer of power in the last eight and a half years.”

Córdova’s claims of a weakened INE were addressed during the weekly section of López Obrador’s morning press conferences called “Who’s who in the lies,” hosted by Ana Elizabeth García Vilchis, a member of the president’s press team.

“They publish lies about the electoral reform every day, but they don’t get to the heart of the issues that citizens should be aware of,” said García, who claimed that the budget cuts would not affect the INE’s fundamental work. 

García displayed a bar graph of the per-vote costs of Mexico compared with other Latin American countries. At US $7.61, Mexico was the highest on the list, followed closely by Brazil at $6.95 per vote. García highlighted the cost-effectiveness of Colombia, the lowest of the cited countries, at $0.27 per vote. 

She then showed a video containing several critiques of the electoral reform in Mexican media, then ended the discussion of the topic by saying: “Well, we’ll leave it at that so that you can make up your own minds.”

A group of around 50 protesters gathered outside the entrance to the Senate Wednesday morning, holding banners and chanting their opposition to the reform. 

Ricardo Orozco, a 54-year-old shopkeeper from Mexico City, said that the INE is already “perfectly trustworthy” and that López Obrador wants to be “judge and jury” when it comest to elections in Mexico. 

“We’re upset that he isn’t defending the interests of the people, but rather those of his party,” Orozco said. 

Mexico City resident Adriana Villa expressed a similar view to that of Senator Rosales. 

“We can’t go back to the past, to the PRI we had for 70 years,” the 28-year-old said. “We don’t want this to happen with this administration. We want democracy.”

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