Mexico’s 2024 Elections: Time To Boost Democracy Or Cement Authoritarianism


As Mexico´s president seeks to consolidate his power ahead of the 2024 general elections in the fall, will voters and institutions react to safeguard the country´s democracy or fall deeper into outgoing President López Obrador´s authoritarian impulses?

MEXICO CITY — Two philosophies divide the realm of power. One seeks to ensure the state has all the tools it needs to bring about equality, and the other pursues the state’s decentralization and expand civil liberties. The first philosophy, rooted in the ideas of the 18th century French thinker Rousseau, is cherished by governments keen to take charge of their citizens. Such governments will always tout the leader or head of state as the people’s only representative.

Though, inevitably, such regimes incline toward tyranny. The second philosophy, rooted in the writings of the Englishman John Locke, favors a balance of power inside the state, precisely to prevent the tyranny of any one person or party. Another 18th century thinker, Montesquieu, described the state as a structure made of three branches of government (judicial, legislative and executive), with each acting as a check on the power of the other two.

In the last century, the philosophy of government has evolved here in Mexico. An initial, formative period (1916-17) that followed the tumult of the 1910 revolution, saw jostling between liberal, conservative, authoritarian, even trade-unionist and anarchist ideas until a constitutional agreement was reached and a charter approved in 1917.

Much of it was based on the liberal constitution of 1857. Subsequent decades saw a consolidation of this centralising vision, associated especially with the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas, which shaped Mexican governance through a period of economic development. This system began to falter with the 1968 student riots, and then the 1985 Mexico City earthquake.

These events would fuel electoral rivalries throughout the 1980s, as well as a number of economic and political reforms that would lay the groundwork for a more open economy and a political system that aspired to be fully democratic.

Most importantly, the economic and especially political changes of recent decades did not emerge from a Left-Right division. Students were the first group to demand democratization and limits to presidential powers, later being backed, for a while at least, by the center-right National Action Party (PAN), which had itself emerged as a reaction to the corruption of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party).


A new reality
Such changes have entailed an extraordinary, philosophical revolution, which has
inevitably prompted its own counterrevolution seen in the current president, Andrés
Manuel López Obrador (often simply called by his initials AMLO). Since its election in
2018, the current administration has not only worked to consolidate its power but also
eliminate any counterweight or outpost of resistance.

Many institutions have been eradicated, starved of funds or neutralized (by leaving
vacancies in bodies like the market regulator or the Electoral Court, well, vacant). This
all illustrates an easily discernible pattern. The president says parallel bodies are
"onerous" to the public purse and are being removed to save people money. Yet this
downsizing has more to do with his vision of power – call it a blast from the past – that
excludes citizens and gives preference to total presidential control.

Power, unfortunately, corrupts.

In the Soviet Union — another top-down system — they'd say it was easy to
differentiate between authoritarian and democratic systems. In the former, politicians
mocked citizens and in democracies the opposite occurred. But political systems
where one person says and does as they please and mock, or pummel, those who
oppose their vision are all too common. Power, unfortunately, corrupts.
Looking ahead, two fundamental questions hang over the president's institutional plans.
Firstly: how will candidates (for the 2024 general elections) react to his proposals? The
answer to this question will reveal these candidates' inclinations to side either with their
citizens or with tyranny? The second concerns parliament: will it fulfill its responsibilities,
or continue to submit to the president as nothing more than a rubber stamp?

Hope for a new future

In 1997, when the PRI first lost its absolute majority in parliament, the opposition
celebrated the hope of a new future in Mexico.”Together we outnumber you,” one
opponent told the country´s PRI president Ernesto Zedillo. From 1997 to 2012,
parliament was not so much a counterweight as an impregnable wall of opposition.
That changed with Enrique Peña Nieto and the return of some old-style politics with a
bit of help from cash bribes! As for this parliament, it has been Soviet-style in its
submission and loyalty!
We´ve seen a lot of mediocrity and lackluster performances.
But our country has a big opportunity in September and October 2024, with the
formation of a new parliament and a new government. We´ve had a range of
experiences in recent decades, both in leadership and legislative terms, with a lot of
mediocrity and lackluster performances.
People have a chance to vote in a system of checks and balances that constitutes
collective governance. This means a new framework of full legitimacy consisting of
three branches of government. Put simply, it is the chance to end our decline towards
authoritarianism and begin a new stage of development.