Thousands protest in Mexico against cuts to electoral watchdog

Tens of thousands of people turned out across Mexico on Sunday to protest against legal changes passed this week to slash the electoral agency’s budget, fearing that it put the country’s hard-fought democracy at risk.

Dressed in shirts, dresses and hats in pink and white, the colours of the electoral institute INE, protesters marched to the capital’s main square to hear speeches by a former supreme court judge and an ex-congresswoman.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador had pushed the package of laws passed by Congress this week, alleging that INE was corrupt and captured by conservatives.

Rights groups have said that the changes put the credibility of Mexican elections at risk.

“We want to defend the INE, we want to defend Mexico’s democracy, that’s why we’re here,” said Marco Cabrera, 57, who has a company that represents foreign firms in Mexico.

The funding cuts in the legislation would mean an 85 per cent reduction in technical staff for the professional electoral service, which oversees votes, INE has said. The body has been a cornerstone of Mexico’s transition to democracy since 2000, when an opposition party won the presidency for the first time in more than 70 years.

The new laws will now be analysed by the supreme court, with opponents hoping eight of the 11-judge court will declare it unconstitutional.

“I’m here to support the National Electoral Institute, so that it stays in place,” said Irving Arellano, 32, an accountant originally from the state of Guerrero carrying a Mexican flag. “He wants to have the referee in his favour,” he said of López Obrador.

One of the march’s organisers, former opposition politician Fernando Belaunzarán, said 500,000 people had turned out across the country.

Mexico’s government and its supporters have dismissed Sunday’s march as a protest in favour of corruption and in support of former security minister Genaro García Luna, who was found guilty in a US court this week of taking bribes from drug traffickers.

López Obrador has approval ratings of around 60 per cent, with many of his supporters also backing the reform which would cut funding to political parties. Ricardo Monreal, leader of his Morena party in congress, has said he believes parts of the reform are unconstitutional.

Demonstrators wearing masks attend a protest in support of the National Electoral Institute (INE) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Sunday © REUTERS

Several protesters on Sunday stressed that they were there of their own volition, rather than via the common practice of political parties paying attendees to turn up.

“The INE is our guarantee that our vote is secure and counts,” said Catalina Juarez, 44, from the State of Mexico, who was marching with her sister and a friend. “We don’t agree with the president’s plan.”

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