WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

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25 Jan 2024 | Commentary

Elections and Human Rights in Mexico: 3 Key Issues

On June 2, Mexico will hold elections to choose the country’s president, the entire federal Congress, nine governors, the composition of almost all state legislatures, and thousands of municipal posts: a total of more than 20,000 positions. The elections take place in a context of concerns over current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s attempts to weaken democratic checks and balances. The electoral results could shape various aspects of the design of Mexico’s institutions going forward.

We highlight three issues that will be important to monitor before, during, and after the elections:

  1. Electoral violence. High levels of violence are expected against participants in the electoral process. January 2024 began with the murder of several people seeking political office, including two trans women in less than a week.

In 2021, when Mexico held elections of a similar size, election season saw hundreds of attacks, mostly at the municipal level; some 100 politicians were killed, including dozens of candidates and potential candidates. A significant factor driving violence are the criminal groups who seek to influence the electoral results and whose relationships with authorities change and realign after elections take place. 

  1. A possible institutional redesign through constitutional reforms. López Obrador has announced that he will present a package of constitutional reforms to Congress on February 5. The package is expected to include proposals to:
  • Establish that judges, magistrates, and Supreme Court justices be elected by popular vote, as a supposed measure to “clean” the judicial branch of corruption. This proposal comes in a context of constant attacks by López Obrador and his administration against judicial authorities.
  • Eliminate various oversight and regulatory bodies, including the body that oversees government transparency and the public’s access to information. 
  • Formalize military control over federal policing tasks by incorporating the National Guard (Guardia Nacional, GN) into the Ministry of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA). López Obrador had sought to transfer full control of the GN to SEDENA through a legislative reform approved in 2022, but Mexico’s Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación, SCJN) struck down the reform as unconstitutional in 2023.
  • Shrink or reform Mexico’s electoral system following a previous, failed attempt to do so.

López Obrador currently lacks the legislative supermajority needed to reform the Constitution (two-thirds of Congress). If the June elections grant him this majority, the result could be a series of reforms that will impact Mexican institutions for a long time to come.

  1. Human rights, including women’s rights, as Mexico elects its first female president. López Obrador has sought to discredit human rights organizations and question the feminist movement; he has denied military espionage and other abuses despite available evidence; he has promoted policies of penal populism; and, after initially supporting institutional advances in the search for the disappeared—a central priority of the victims’ families, led mostly by women—he has recently backtracked in this area.

The question now is to what extent the 2024 presidential transition, including the almost guaranteed election of Mexico’s first female president, will be an opportunity to reverse some of these trends and advance policies that center victims and justice. If the ruling MORENA party retains the presidency, there will be little chance of reversing the current administration’s flagship policies, such as militarization. Regardless of whether election day brings continuity or change in the ruling party, a political transition does not automatically mean that there will be advances in the human rights agenda. In this context, it will therefore be essential to support the role of victims, families, and human rights organizations.

In short, Mexico’s 2024 elections will influence areas ranging from the design of democratic institutions to security and human rights, among many others. WOLA will monitor these issues in the coming months. Several media outlets, academic programs, and think tanks also offer resources for those seeking more information on this year’s elections.