president of mexico Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador dismissed concerns about plans to shrink the country’s election watchdog on Monday, accusing protesters of having links to drug traffickers.
Pictures of a mass protest in Mexico City on Sunday showed tens of thousands of people dressed in pink – the color of the National Electoral Institute (INE), which oversees elections and has been banned. López Obrador accused of being partisan.
Many protesters held up placards that read: “Hands off INE.”
Speaking at his daily morning press conference on Monday, López Obrador mocked the placards, saying they meant “let’s get rid of corruption”.
“According to them, the privileges are untouched, the drug nation untouched,” he added, claiming without proof that the protest leaders “are part of corruption.” in Mexico, they belong to the drug nation.”
Mexican lawmakers last week passed a bill backed by the president to cut the agency’s budget, which could lead to an 85 percent cut in staff as well as the closure of some local offices . Lorenzo Córdova, head of the INE, say on Twitter that the move could “seriously affect the election process in the future.”
Election officials warn the change will affect their ability to hold free and fair elections before the 2024 general election, when President Lopez Obrador, who is limited in office six-year period, it is expected to appoint a successor.
More broadly, moves to restrict independent agencies like the INE have raised concerns about a return to practices seen when Mexico was a run by autocratic one-party for decades before 2000.
López Obrador has argued that the agency’s budget cuts will save millions of dollars and make voting more efficient.
The president came to power in 2018 promising to tackle inequality and poverty, repeatedly criticizing the salaries of senior INE officials and accusing the organization of cheating in elections. previous election.
But Will Freeman, a research fellow on Latin America at the Council on Foreign Relations, warned that López Obrador’s remarks on Monday were “as provocative, reckless and dangerous for democracy as reform. of INE brought more than 100,000 Mexicans to the streets. ”
“We should be concerned in any country where you see an incumbent president shaking up the electoral college, when there’s really no opposition left to push back,” Freeman said.