By Andrés Torres-Scott
The so-called Plan B for electoral reform in Mexico is a last resource legislative tool for Mexican populist president Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) to change the elections’ rules for his succession in 2024. AMLO aims at three points: weaken the electoral institutions, 2) diminish government activity oversight from the Judiciary while favoring official candidates, and 3) Destabilize electoral institutions by diminishing their budget and personnel.
On April 2022, AMLO proposed a series of constitutional amendments that Congress rejected. His party Morena and its allies—the Greens (PVEM) and the Work Party (PT)—do not hold a majority of ¾ in either chamber. AMLO proposed to amend 18 constitutional articles and create a new Electoral Law. These changes included, among others, getting rid of proportional representation congress members; popular elections for the officials leading the Electoral Institute (INE) and the Federal Elections Court; allowing the federal government to make propaganda during elections; and decreasing the annual budget for the electoral institutions by US$1.22 billion.
The opposition in Congress rejected the Constitutional amendments, but AMLO proposed a new Bill named Plan B and presented it to the Chamber of Deputies in December 2022. This time, the Bill did not include any constitutional amendments; hence, it only needed a simple majority in Congress. The Bill was approved by the Chamber of Deputies on December 14 but still needs to be voted by the Senate this year.
Why is it relevant to Mexican democracy?
Plan B proposes to modify four laws (Organic Law of the Judiciary, General Law of Electoral Institutions and Procedures, General Law of Political Parties, and General Law of Means of Contending Electoral Matter) and three areas regulating elections. It challenges democracy by reducing personnel at the National Electoral Institute (INE) and eliminating the Federal Electoral Court branch that oversights government activities during the elections. In Mexico, where for 60 years the PRI used public funds to support its candidates and fund their political campaigns, the disappearance of judiciary oversight over government affects true democracy.
Plan B’s three areas of electoral reform
- Elections Procedure
- Sets up a new Single Complaint Procedure in Electoral Matters
- Establishes online trials and sentences for electoral proceedings
- Forbids electoral authorities to request additional requirements for candidates beyond the law.
- Political-electoral rights
The opposition is debating whether allowing prisoners in pretrial detention to vote. Otherwise, the rest of the changes will not be challenged and include:
- Easing the vote for Mexicans abroad.
- Regulating gender parity quotas and candidacies for governorships.
- Guaranteeing the right to vote to disabled people who lack mobility.
- Requiring federal legislators to resign while running reelection campaigns.
- National Electoral System
- Creates a plan to review, resize, and compact the INE.
- Dissolves the Executive General Board and diminishes its directorates from seven to three.
- Reduces District Councils during non-electoral periods from 300 to 260 while it dismisses 1,500 officials.
- Eliminates the National Electoral Professional Service and lays off 2,000 officials.
- Eliminates INE’s trusts and transfers the funds to the federal government.
Changes to the Federal Electoral Court
- Eliminates the Specialized Regional Chamber that regulates parties and candidates while running a campaign and their access to media, their use of public money, publicity of public programs, and defines anticipated campaign acts.
- Eliminates two federal Regional Courts.
By a simple majority from AMLO’s party and its allies, the Senate will approve the Bill before April 30. The opposition parties PAN, PRI, and PRD, and the Electoral Councilors of the National Electoral Institute—an autonomous entity—will contest the reforms before the Supreme Court as they seem to be unconstitutional.
The Court would have to give a final ruling before June 2023, as the Constitution establishes that electoral rules should be ruled at least one year before the election. It is most likely that the Supreme Court would approve most of the reforms in Plan B, but it would be surprising if it would allow the changes to the Electoral Institute and the Electoral Court.
Andrés Torres-Scott is a public policy analyst and author. He has 25+ years of experience in public policy analyses and implementation having worked for the US Dept. of State, the provincial government of Alberta, Canada, and the Mexican federal government and Senate. Follow him on Twitter: @esandresmx