Shannon K O’Neil, a senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and Bloomberg´s collaborator, says AMLO’s concentration of power is in an already strong presidency bodes ill for civil society and fragile institutions.
Latin America’s two biggest economies are in their first 140 days under new management. During the presidential campaigns in Brazil and Mexico, democracy’s champions worried most about Brazil, given Jair Bolsonaro’s nostalgia for military rule. Yet today it is Mexico’s democracy that is under greater threat: President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, is systematically concentrating power in an already strong executive.
From the start, AMLO has undermined democratic norms and checks and balances. Despite controlling a constitutional majority in Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies and sizable majority in its Senate, he has often chosen to work outside the formal legislative process. Instead he has relied on dubious public “referendums,” sampling small and politically skewed groups to set agricultural policy, boost pensions, authorize infrastructure projects and create scholarships.
He has attacked and stacked the courts. He quickly moved to cut judges’ salaries and take control of court officials’ evaluations and promotions. His first nominations to the highest bench include the wife of a favored contractor and party loyalists.
He is taking on the islands of independence within the government, slashingthe budgets of the electoral institute, the transparency agency and many sectoral regulators. He and his political allies are using the bully pulpit, congressional inquiries and the tax authority to go after commissioners who have dared to question his methods, whether for granting big contracts without an open bidding process or nominating unqualified candidates to technical commissions.
The same goes for Mexico’s “deep state”: Salary cuts and widespread firings are weeding out the technically minded and non-partisan within the civil service. AMLO has also gone after outside organizations, preferring to shutter women’s shelters rather than provide funds to independent NGOs.
Throughout it all, AMLO’s public opinion ratings are record-high, giving him domestic room to push forward. A decimated political opposition has yet to regroup.