Latin America Advisor

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Will Mexico’s New Congress Realize AMLO’s Reforms?

After Mexico’s ruling Morena party swept the elections for the legislature, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador faces a unique opportunity to attempt passing major reforms before his term ends.

Mexico’s ruling Morena party won a supermajority in the lower house of Congress but fell short of that threshold in the Senate, the party’s president announced on June 9. Winning 83 of the upper house’s 128 seats in the June 2 election, the ruling party will have control in the Senate, but a two-thirds vote in both houses is required to make constitutional amendments. What does the composition of Mexico’s Congress mean for Morena, and how might it alter the party’s plans to pass judicial reforms before President Andrés Manuel López Obrador leaves office? What hurdles might Morena have to clear to accomplish these goals, and to what extent will a lack of supermajority in both houses hinder Morena’s legislative goals? What does the composition of Congress mean for President-elect Claudia Sheinbaum’s other legislative goals, such as an increase in pensions and the ban on re-election of public officials?

Lillian Briseño Senosiain, researcher at the National School of Education and Humanities at Tecnológico de Monterrey: “Although all polls estimated that Claudia Sheinbaum, Morena’s candidate, would win the elections on June 2, the way in which she overwhelmed the opposition was a surprise, even for the most optimistic of her followers. In the end, not only did she obtain close to 60 percent of the votes for the presidency, but the president’s party has obtained a qualified majority in the Chamber of Deputies and is two seats away from also achieving it in the Senate. President López Obrador therefore has Congress on his side to enact changes in the Constitution.With these results, the well-known division of powers, key in a democracy, will be affected since the legislature will be totally subordinate to the executive. With this composition of Congress, the constitutional reforms that President López Obrador has promoted during his government will be able to be voted on in September, under his mandate. One of them, which has made the most noise in recent days, has to do with the reform of the judiciary, another of the counterweights, through which ministers, judges and magistrates would be elected by popular vote. Sheinbaum seems to find herself between a rock and a hard place, since the markets’ response to this initiative has been negative, with the peso already approaching 19 pesos to the U.S. dollar. Although AMLO has tried to calm things down, his initiatives contribute to an atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty in Mexico.”

María Elisa Vera Madrigal, professor of criminal law at Escuela Libre de Derecho: “As of Sept. 1, Morena and its political allies will live out a politician’s wildest dream, holding 372 out of the 500 seats in the Cámara de Diputados, the lower house of the Mexican Congress, and 83 out if the 128 seats in Cámara de Senadores, the upper house. President López Obrador will finish his six-year term with a cohesive Congress, which could potentially give him his long pursued judicial reform. If a constitutional amendment, such as changing the process of appointing Supreme Court justices, were to be made, it would also require the approval of the majority of the legislatures of the states and Mexico City. The appointment of circuit and district judges, on the other hand, could be altered with a swift modification to the laws that shape the judicial selection procedure (Ley de Carrera Judicial and the Federal Judiciary Council’s administrative rules). While obtaining a quorum might not be a problem to pass the ‘reforma judicial,’ obtaining it within the 30 days the president will have before the next administration is sworn in might prove difficult. The beginning of the legislative term will come as a timely reminder of President López Obrador’s last month in office. The Mexican political tradition dictates that toward the end of a presidential term, the exiting president shall refrain from passing new initiatives in Congress. The president, however, is not restricted from doing so, and with 35 million votes backing the movement, it’s hard to believe that he will not give it a try.”

Tony Payan, director and fellow of the Mexico Center at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy: “Mexico’s 2024 elections delivered a ringing majority for the Morena-led coalition, which will have captured not only the presidency but also a two-thirds majority in the lower house and will come only two or three short of a qualified majority in the Senate. That opens a thirty-day window of opportunity for Mexico’s autocratic president, López Obrador, to push through the twenty or so constitutional reforms that will take Mexico toward the restoration of a one-party rule. Even if he lacks two or three votes in the Senate to accomplish his goals, he can cajole two opposition senators or tempt them to change parties. That has been done before. The political shift will be dramatic, as it will strengthen the executive branch, turn the legislative branch into a rubber stamp congress and co-opt the judicial branch—including the Supreme Court—which he wants elected by popular vote. All semblance of separation of powers and checks and balances will be effectively erased. This will move Mexico further away from the club of liberal democracies and into the group of increasingly autocratic regimes—a position that will take a tectonic shift to undo in the future. The changes will paint the next administration, to be led by Claudia Sheinbaum, into a corner, without the ability to decide its own course of action on policies that include energy, militarization of the public safety and security apparatus, and other areas where she is not likely to go against the sitting president.”

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