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Mexican president proposes sweeping reforms increasing pensions, minimum wage


The president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is proposing a sweeping package of reforms to the country's constitution, from increasing pensions for retirees to electing the Supreme Court judges by popular vote. The proposals would dramatically alter the country's political landscape, and it all comes just four months before Mexico elects a new president. Carlos Bravo Regidor is a political analyst in Mexico City and joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: Thank you for having me, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So this appears to be a huge package - 20 proposed reforms in total, everything from guaranteeing pensions to banning e-cigarettes and animal cruelty. Tell us, what are some of the biggest ones?

BRAVO REGIDOR: Well, I think the most consequential one is the reform of the pensions system. This is a problem that needs to be tackled, but it doesn't really, you know, answer the question, where is the money going to come from? So it seems to be a gesture, you know, in the right direction, but it really doesn't provide the kind of integral solution given the size and how consequential the problem is.

ELLIOTT: Do any of these reforms have a chance of actually being enacted?

BRAVO REGIDOR: Well, I would say no, but the president is clearly using this as a tool to influence the electoral process, betting everything on constitutional reforms his coalition doesn't have the votes to pass, but that will, you know, put pressure on opposition parties during the electoral process to oppose them and to pay the political costs, particularly in those reforms that are popular, that have majoritarian support.

ELLIOTT: So it sounds like this is a purely political move. There's a presidential election. It's coming up in June. Lopez Obrador is not eligible for reelection. Why is he trying to insert himself into the process like this?

BRAVO REGIDOR: Well, I would say that there are mostly three reasons. The first one, as I said, is to put pressure on the opposition parties. They are going to have to position themselves regarding these proposals. And some of these proposals are very popular. Number two, this is a media bomb. There's a lot of interest, a lot of demand for explanations of what this would entail, if they are viable or not, of what the candidates think or what the position of the parties are. And this is sucking a lot of coverage oxygen in the media regarding other problems that the president, his candidate, his party, his coalition would rather have them not be covered in the media - such as violence, such as the water crisis that Mexico is going through, you know, the collapse of our health system. And the third and probably most interesting - by making these proposals, the president is imposing himself. This is very odd, because it seems as if the president was competing with his party's own candidate. He's setting her agenda. He is forcing her to defend it.

ELLIOTT: Sounds like he's trying to hold on to power.

BRAVO REGIDOR: Well, he can't. In Mexico, we don't have presidential reelection.

ELLIOTT: Influence, then.

BRAVO REGIDOR: Exactly. Yes. This seems as somebody who's not getting ready to go back to his house and to have an after-presidency life. This is somebody who is setting the terrain to exert influence once his term is over.

ELLIOTT: You know, many of the president's critics say a couple of these reforms - electing the Supreme Court justices by popular vote, for instance, doing away with an independent electoral commission and downsizing Congress - that those would pose a risk to Mexico's democracy. How do you see it?

BRAVO REGIDOR: I would agree with that assessment. By downsizing Congress, what would happen is the majoritarian party - in this case, the president's party, Morena - would become hegemonic and would be able to do any changes they want without really the opposition being able to stop them or to ask at least for changes. In terms of the electoral commission, yes, another trait of Mexico's transition to democracy was removing the organization of elections from the government itself to create an independent commission. And if they do away with it, well, once again, the integrity of Mexican elections would be under question. And the third one you were mentioning about doing away with a lot of autonomous technical organs, these have been created in order to provide technical solutions to problems. And this, of course, the president sees as an obstacle to do what he wants to carry out his agenda. And this would also mean the professionalization of decision-making process. So yes, indeed, I think these are all signals of what political scientists these days are calling democratic backsliding.

ELLIOTT: That's Carlos Bravo Regidor, a political analyst. Thanks for joining us.

BRAVO REGIDOR: It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Debbie Elliott
NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.