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Lorenzo and democracy at risk

Mexican democracy was in a predicament, and Lorenzo Cordova gave birth. The President Councilor of the National Electoral Institute has finished complicating a gloomy political panorama that could dismantle four decades of advances in the reliability of elections in Mexico. How much of the hope that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador does not capture the INE happens because that institution does not also succumb due to the prominence of its defenders?

The Government of the Republic that was inaugurated causing a shortage of gasoline never seen before; the administration that is about to complete four years without resolving a drug shortage of a level that did not exist before; the Cabinet that sees months and months go by without being able to recover the international degradation in air safety… that group without credentials of effectiveness or efficiency -wow, not even its queries turn out well- intends arrange the Mexican electoral system.

If the intention were noble, of which there is no indication in the form or substance of the Lopez Obrador attempt, it should be pointed out that the Mexican elections do need a squeeze, an adjustment that attacks an old problem and a threatening shadow.

For some time there has been an elephant in the polls: candidacies in Mexico are bought. To compete, those who want to champion one or the other party must have or obtain overflowing saddlebags of untraceable money. The official allegation that democracy is very expensive is hypocritical: it is not the budget of the INE, nor even that of the parties, which is burdensome. As much as these amounts constitute enormous volumes, these —paradoxically— are little compared to what is actually spent in the elections.

Three decades ago there were political parties that did not receive the budget that the Government had for these organizations. They thus wanted to guarantee independence from PRI authoritarianism. When the opposition, in the mid-1990s, finally accepted the public subsidy, it was argued that this would prevent obscure interests from sponsoring campaigns and politicians, who once in office would have a private owner rather than a popular mandate or loyalty to the party that I applied to them.

A quarter of a century of public financing has created party bureaucracies dependent on the treasury without preventing, in many cases, the candidacies to compete for government seats or representatives from being decided above all by the monetary attraction capacity that the applicants demonstrate —and/ or their sponsors—long before the campaigns.

This slope of Mexican democracy perverts fairness in competition and usurps from voters the possibility of demanding that their chosen ones act in the way that best suits the community.

And if the INE is expensive for one reason, it is because not a few of its activities are auditing. The law has been continuously modified in an attempt to close the door to cheating, but implementing these monitoring and surveillance measures, and their inherent sanctioning processes, in addition to being laborious, supposes an endless task as long as parties and politicians continue resorting to propaganda tricks or of operation oiled with black resources.

That pernicious behavior is not at the center of the reform that the National Palace seeks. Neither that nor – the other issue of urgent attention – the growing threat of organized crime, whose hand was previously noticeable in the sponsorship of candidates but which has recently even assumed a role of massive electoral operator, as in Sinaloa in 2021, to mention one emblematic case more than documented.

The interference of actors with large amounts of tarnished money, then, is a pending issue for Mexican democracy.

But Lopez Obrador is not interested in that discussion. What it intends is to improvise a new backbone for the organization of the elections, including the way of settling any disputes, and to empower the leaders of the political parties —which will manipulate the legislative candidates like never before, who will only be from the list—, by time that from power, with more resources and less scruples than anyone, Morena will take advantage in the upcoming elections.

The INE is the product of electoral reforms that make it possible for it to act as a brake on authorities that intend to hold elections. It was articulated in such a way that in the face of abuses it can use its voice and, if necessary, show its teeth. It is not perfect, but its functionality was demonstrated, if there was any doubt at that time, when the candidate who most reneged on that institution won in an exemplary process and without haggling by anyone, least of all by electoral counselors and magistrates.

In times of polarization and post-truth, in the era of uncontrollable social networks and elusive cryptocurrencies, and at a time when the Federal Executive Power denies the pluralism of Mexican society, a more professional INE is required, and also a more serene one. and judicious. It is required that the institution, recognized by the majority of the citizens, not be confused with the people who make it up or even direct it.

Lorenzo Cordova is president of the General Council of the INE. His term, and that of three other directors, ends next spring. Morena is choking on this academic. They criticize him as a system, they revile him to weaken him personally and the institute that he presides over in essentials. This tactic has lasted for years, is headed by the president himself and seems to be about to bear the maximum fruit: will intemperate actions turn Cordova into the most unexpected of Lopez Obrador’s allies against the INE?

The INE has something that frustrates Lopez Obrador like few things. His autonomy seems like an aberration. The president does not conceive that whoever won does not rule everywhere. And unless they resist him, as the INE has done in these years.

This must be underlined because the presidential attack against the electoral authority cannot be normalized or rationalized, much less blame the latter for the subjugation of the former. However, it is also necessary to review what officials do to avoid traps and not provoke attacks that could devalue what they were entrusted with.

One of the things that will be debated in the future about this INE is whether it could have been more astute in the face of the austerity rogue of Lopez. Would it have been of any use to lower salaries and change the conditions of the contracts of its bureaucracy to make that body rhyme perfectly with the Palacio’s speech? Would they have been recognized or would they in any way suffer from presidential disdain? Was there room for this adjustment without compromising the very simple organization and surveillance of elections?

These are questions for the Lorenzo who will go down in history, since he presides over the last, and some consider that the most important, bastion that receives the shrapnel from Andres Manuel; and few dare to think about what will happen if the Palace manages to impose electoral advisers and magistrates raised to the highest decision levels by the ruling majority, if in the prelude to a polarized electoral process a new way of distributing power and a flimsy bureaucracy is improvised (because there would be thousands of layoffs).

Defending the INE goes beyond defending the current institute and, of course, has little to do with defending the councilors that make it up today. Defending the INE is like voting: a right and a duty. Because defending the INE means rejecting any change in the way of electing representatives that is not by consensus, that does not reflect the plurality of Mexico.

The INE is the product of a democratic way of making laws. Mexicans have not known for a long time the bitterness of going to the ballot box with the certainty that their vote will not be counted, that their will will be mocked. This gigantic change was achieved with arduous negotiations over many years where not everyone was always equally satisfied. But what we have today is a reason for general pride: we vote freely, we vote knowing that anyone can win, we vote empowered.

That democratic way of making laws is at risk because Lopez Obrador and his associates resort to simplistic arguments in their attempt to impose a reform, which is also inappropriate —because the federal election is so close— and risky, because it would dismantle, without taking charge of the complexity of our elections, the current system of advisers to replace them suddenly and without a guarantee of professionalism and impartiality in those who arrive by a new method of popular election.

Precisely in this lies the seriousness of Cordova’s stumble this week. Once it became known that the INE had a survey, carried out weeks ago and showing support for the popular election of councilors and magistrates, willingly or not, it contributed to the official simplism. The entanglement is served: why he did not disclose that survey at the time, why he accepted some questions that did not contextualize what is implicit in each question, and why he now says that this majority support has changed.

Yes, Morena would take advantage of the slightest slip of authority that wants to disappear to attack her. And this one has arrived in bad timing: it is what is least needed at this time, in these days in which by seeing a morning anyone becomes aware that the regime will be used in a reform of the INE that, carried out without consensus, will be terrible news for today’s Mexico and of the future and a gray forecast regression.

Cordova will bear the burden of having accepted a survey that did not warn its respondents about the scenarios that the questions implied. As Lorena Becerra explained on Friday in Reform, people support the National Electoral Institute and weigh their support for changing it when they are exposed to possible negative consequences of the Lopez Obrador initiative. But Lorenzo didn’t take care of that. And to top it off, he did not do good damage control when he was surprised by the journalistic dissemination of his survey.

This incident will cost him moral authority and sets the table for those who seek to paint him as a biased, overpaid actor. Now Lorenzo has to ensure that his person does not contaminate the resistance of the INE. That is what is expected of him: that in the face of those in power who display partisanship and indolent inexperience, he shows that there is a democratic and effective way of exercising responsibility. With that he would contribute to the defense of the INE.

Because today more INE is required, not less INE. More professionals in that institute and more temperance in all those who lead it. Less pettiness of those who, within the council itself, see Lorenzo’s crisis as an opportunity for their ambitions.

And it is necessary to keep in mind, during the next few weeks, that Cordova nor any of them are the problem, even if they sometimes complicate things. The problem is that a way of making laws on rights that violates the culture, incipient but still current for Mexico, triumphs, that it is not possible, from the majority, to change rules without including minorities. That – and nothing else – is to defend the INE.

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