Huge rallies have been held in several Mexico protests cities against what protesters say are government attempts to undermine the electoral authorities.
The biggest was in Mexico City, where organisers say 500,000 people marched on the city’s main plaza. The local government put the number at 90,000.
Lawmakers last week voted to slash the budget of the National Electoral Institute (INE) and cut its staffing.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador accuses the INE of being partisan.
But opponents describe the recent vote as an attack on democracy itself, pressing the Supreme Court to overturn them as unconstitutional.
On Sunday, massive crowds gathered in Mexico City’s historic Zocalo Square. The demonstrators spilled out into adjoining streets in the city centre.
“We’re fighting to defend our democracy,” protester Veronica Echevarria was quoted as saying by Reuters. She was wearing a cap emblazoned with the words “Hands off the INE”. Many demonstrators carried cards with a similar slogan.
Smaller peaceful demonstrations were staged in several other cities.
Mexico’s Senate approved the reforms on Wednesday, following a similar vote in the lower chamber of parliament. The reforms will come into force once they are signed by President López Obrador.
Will Grant, says it is perhaps the most polemic political issue in Mexico at present.
Mr López Obrador, who was elected in July 2018 after two previous failed attempts, has long been critical of the INE, whose staff oversee elections.
Last month, he accusing the independent body of cheating, and said its staff turned a blind eye to “the stuffing of ballot boxes, falsification of [election] records and vote buying”.
In his first attempt at becoming president, in 2006, he lost to his conservative rival Felipe Calderón by less than one percentage point. For months, Mr López Obrador refused to recognise the result, which he denounced as fraudulent.
He also challenged the result of the 2012 election, when he lost to Enrique Peña Nieto.
Since his win in 2018, Mr López Obrador has been pushing for a reform of the INE, which he says will save taxpayers $150m (£125m) a year by drastically reducing the agency’s staff.
Belaunzaran said “Huge crowds rally against electoral reform
She and thousands of others converged towards the Zocalo via the city’s Paseo de la Reforma Boulevard on Sunday morning, many of them dressed in pink, the colors of the INE.
Video footage on social media showed people approaching the square holding banners saying ‘hands off my vote’.
The INE and its predecessor played a key role in creating a pluralistic democracy that in 2000 ended decades of one party rule, according to many political analysts.
Fernando Belaunzaran, an opposition politician who helped to organize the protests, said the changes weakened the electoral system and increased the risk of disputes clouding the 2024 elections when Lopez Obrador’s successor will be chosen.
“Normally presidents try to have governability and stability for their succession, but the president is creating uncertainty,” said Belaunzaran. “He’s playing with fire.”
Belaunzaran said in a tweet on Sunday there would be marches in more than 100 cities.
Mexican presidents may only serve a single six-year term.
Lopez Obrador, a 69-year-old leftist who contends he was robbed of the presidency twice before he finally romped to a crushing victory in the 2018 election, argues the INE is too expensive and biased in favor of his opponents.
The institute denies this.
According to the INE, the president’s overhaul violates the constitution, curbs the institute’s independence and eliminates thousands of jobs dedicated to safeguarding the electoral process, making it harder to hold free and fair elections.
Lopez Obrador has also weakened other autonomous bodies that check his power on the grounds that they are a drain on the public purse and hostile to his political project. He says his INE shake-up will save $150 million a year.
Last week he called the INE “anti-democratic” and a tool of the ruling elite, accusing it of fomenting electoral fraud.
Polls show the president’s National Regeneration Movement (MORENA), which in just a few years has become the dominant force in Mexico, is a strong favorite to win the 2024 election.
Critics of the INE overhaul argue Lopez Obrador is not confident MORENA can retain power without interference in the electoral process. He denies this.
Belaunzaran and his fellow demonstrators aim to fill Mexico City’s main square, which abuts the presidential palace, and holds political significance.
Over the years the Zocalo has hosted many rallies fronted by Lopez Obrador, both as president and during his long career as an opposition scourge of the Mexican establishment.
Demonstrators hope Sunday’s protest will muster even more support than the tens of thousands who turned out in November to denounce Lopez Obrador’s earlier, unsuccessful bid to push through constitutional changes to reform the INE.