Democracy and Economic Freedom Are at Stake in Mexican Elections

This weekend’s midterm elections on June 6 in Mexico could inflict additional damage on economic freedom and democracy there.

The stakes are high. If the Mexican people wish to preserve their freedoms, they must push back against creeping authoritarianism.

Midway through his six-year term, it has become increasingly clear that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka “AMLO”) is modeling his administration on that of the political hero of his youth, former President Luis Echeverria Alvarez

Under AMLO’s presidency, the Mexican economy has taken a downturn, and many investors have fled the country. 

Mary O’Grady of The Wall Street Journal points to the predictable outcome. Lopez Obrador aims “to return Mexico to the days of state monopolies in the energy industry and a highly centralized government submissive to an all-powerful president—a la the authoritarianism of the 1970s.”  

That was when Echeverria was in power, leftist populism was in vogue, and the oil industry—Mexico’s crown jewel—belonged exclusively to the state.

AMLO’s authoritarian tendencies pose a renewed, deeper challenge to democracy, liberty, prosperity, the rule of law, and economic freedom in Mexico. This weekend’s midterm elections will decide the future composition of the 500 seats in the national Chamber of Deputies, as well as 30 state legislatures and 15 governorships. 

As Andres Oppenheimer of The Miami Herald warns, if AMLO’s Morena party not only retains control, but gains an absolute majority of those seats in the national legislature, Mexico will likely backslide to the “imperial presidency” of the Echeverria years. 

Any future power grabs by Lopez Obrador to centralize his rule could shift the power balance that is supposed to be secured under Mexico’s 1917 Constitution—and could further displace individual liberties. 

O’Grady explains that the Mexican Constitution “requires eight members of the 11-member Supreme Court to declare a law passed in Congress unconstitutional.”

Lopez Obrador has already shifted control of the Supreme Court to his favor. So, if his political party gains an absolute majority of those congressional seats, he could drastically reshape the constitution through enactment of unconstitutional laws and policies that could diminish the country’s rule of law, increase government size, and place heavier restrictions on a free market.

As The Heritage Foundation’s annual Index for Economic Freedom demonstrates, the degree of a country’s economic freedom has a powerful and measurable effect that is reflected by improvements in civil society, life expectancy, education, and average per capita income. 

The index’s 12 indicator metrics rest upon four pillars: the rule of law, government size, regulatory efficiency, and open markets. All of them are under threat in these midterm elections in Mexico.  

Unfortunately, since Lopez Obrador took office on Dec. 1, 2018, Mexico’s economic freedom has not improved. In fact, the country’s economic freedom score declined to 65.5 (out of 100) in the 2021 index due in large part to a six-point decrease in trade freedom and a five-point decrease in property rights

A further decline in trade freedom could have serious implications for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and for economic relations with other countries in Latin America.

Not only does Lopez Obrador want to centralize further government power and control in the hands of the president, but he also already has placed restrictions on free enterprise, making economic progress difficult. 

Over the past year, operating a business in Mexico has become increasingly arduous as the state placed unnecessarily heavy burdens on entrepreneurs by requiring strict construction permits and high operating fees.

AMLO’s political party, which controls the Congress, has already passed changes to the tax laws in 2019 that threaten property rights.

And even amid the global coronavirus pandemic, The Wall Street Journal article reports that the Mexican government has refused to aid the private business sector, while increasing government transfer handouts so that they now cover 40% of the country’s households—thereby making even more Mexicans dependent on the largesse of the state.

From 1917 to 2000, one political party ruled Mexico. Since 2000, a series of AMLO’s presidential predecessors have won hard-fought political battles to reform, modernize, and liberate the country from the tyrannical grip of the state.

Now, 20 years later, Lopez Obrador has put Mexico back on track to what is a democracy in name only.

The Mexican people deserve far better than a return to the failed policies of the past. The question this weekend is whether or not they will act now to strengthen their right to genuine democracy and economic liberty. 

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