Last week the Baja California local Congress, the state where Tijuana and Ensenada are located, approved an electoral law amendment which will now extend the period of elected governor Jaime Bonilla, from two to five years.
Bonilla, a member of Morena, the party of President López Obrador, achieved this reform due to the collaboration of local legislators of the PAN, a center-right party that represents the main opposition to the current administration headed by AMLO.
This complex political operation was woven with the support of controversial political figure Yeidckol Polevnsky who is presently the national president of Morena, but it is hard to imagine that this move would have been achieved without the advice and consent of the current state governor Kiko Vega, a member of the PAN, and Marko Cortés the national president of the aforementioned party.
In 2014 the local Congress decided that there would be a two-year mini period for the next state governor. This so state elections would coincide with mid-terms on a national level. Thus, the governor elected in 2021, and subsequent ones would have a normal period of five years.
Retiring governor Vega has already announced he won't publish said law on the Official State Gazette, the process by which any law run by Congress takes effect. It will have to be the local Congress which orders the ratification. In case this comes to happen, the PAN and at least two municipalities in the state have already said they would appeal to the Supreme Court to try to reverse this reform.
Adding confusion to this affair, Lower House President Porfirio Muñoz Ledo, also a member of the ruling party, condemned the extension of his party partner's period and warned that the nation's Congress could resort to a suspension of powers in the state, or to courts. So it seems all routes end in the Supreme Court.
The ongoing plot in Baja California, however, rekindled a long-standing fear in Mexico: Presidential reelection. Intellectuals, analysts, journalists, and opposition politicians immediately warned that the so-called Bonilla Law could be a preamble of what Andrés Manuel López Obrador could do in the future: reform the Constitution and perpetuate himself in power in the style of Hugo Chávez. In the 2006, 2012, and 2018 elections, opposing parties used this fear to convince citizens not to vote for López Obrador.
The current Constitution of Mexico was approved in 1917 while the brutal Revolutionary War still raged. In 1910 various factions rose against the government of Porfirio Díaz, the last Mexican dictator, who remained in power for 30 years until he was overthrown and exiled himself to France. Even today, his remains rest in the cemetery of Montparnasse, thousands of miles from the nation he helped to shape.
One of the results of the Revolution was the ban on re-election. The battle cry of insurgent Francisco I. Madero became the mantra of post-revolutionary Mexico: "Effective suffrage, no re-election." For almost 70 years the PRI ruled the country underneath a mask of democracy, and in all official memoranda appeared this phrase emblazoned, a grim reminder that dictatorships can also be institutional.
AMLO - as President López Obrador is popularly known - quickly went on to say he had nothing to do with the political move arranged by Bonilla, Morena and the PAN in Baja California.
"If they'd consulted me, as it was before [in former administrations] and I'd authorized, as others did before me, for legislators to agree and approve such a reform... How would I be today? I'd be mortified, devoid of authority, " said AMLO during one of his daily press conferences.
It is equally hard to believe that Ms. Polevnsky and Governor Bonilla, one of the president's closest friends and a long-time supporter, had operated a movement of such magnitude and impact unbeknownst to AMLO.
On the very same day the reform was approved in Baja California, historian and influential Mexican intellectual Enrique Krauze, whom years ago baptized AMLO as "the tropical Messiah", proposed the creation of a "National Anti-Re-election Front".
"Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas can lead it and many of us would follow him," pointed out Krazue, publisher of Letras Libres magazine, who frequently collaborates with op-eds for the New York Times. Cárdenas is the son of former president Lázaro Cárdenas, and after being Governor of Michoacán under the PRI party, eventually broke with it, created his party and ran as a presidential candidate in 1988, 1994, and 2000, and since the late 1980s he has been a kind of moral leader of the Mexican left-wing.
Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero, who was previously a Supreme Court Justice, also joined the criticism against the reform in the northern state. "In my opinion as a Justice in retirement, of course, it is an unconstitutional reform. But... that's my opinion. However, as Secretary of the Interior, I have to be absolutely respectful of the local Congress, of the political parties that are going to file the actions of unconstitutionality and, of course, of what the Supreme Court resolves at the time," said the official, who is the second in the line of presidential succession.
Under the uproar brought about by opponents, columnists and even members of his cabinet, AMLO changed the tone of his tune. In a subsequent conference, the President said that "Regardless of the extension of the term of the new Governor, it must be said that all parties approved this measure, starting with the PAN, then now, this is a double speech with a double standard, as is sometimes the case, because conservatism does not include only the PAN, it is a doctrine of hypocrisy" said AMLO on Wednesday.
Then he added: "I believe it a whopping hypocrisy that I am now being questioned on this issue when our opponents were the ones who approved this decision, because if it had been put forward by the organization that supports us, to which we belong [Morena], well then, can you imagine the scandal?"
A day later, on Thursday, López Obrador tried to do some damage control on the situation. During his daily morning conference, he signed a notarized document in which he promised not to be reelected once he finished his six-year term in 2024. "Today we're going to deal on my commitment to effective suffrage, no reelection," he said, citing the legendary maxim. "And I will add another commitment to cool off conservatives: it is also no reelection, and no corruption," he added.
It remains to be seen if AMLO's promises will suffice as a guarantee to appease his critics.
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