Voters should curb Mexico’s power-hungry president
In a world plagued by authoritarian populists, Mexico’s president has somehow escaped the limelight. Liberals furiously condemn the erosion of democratic norms under Hungary’s Viktor Orban, India’s Narendra Modi, and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, but barely notice Andrés Manuel López Obrador. This is partly because he lacks some of the vices of his populist peers. He does not deride gay people, bash Muslims or spur his supporters to torch the Amazon. To his credit, he speaks out loudly and often for Mexico’s have-nots, and he is not personally corrupt. Nonetheless, he is a danger to Mexican democracy.
Mr. López Obrador divides Mexicans into two groups: “the people”, by which he means those who support him; and the elite, whom he denounces, often by name, as crooks and traitors who are to blame for all Mexico’s problems. He says he is building a more authentic democracy. It is an odd creature. He calls a lot of votes, but not always on topics that are best resolved by voting. For example, when legal objections are raised to one of his pet projects—moving an airport, building a pipeline, blocking a factory—he calls a referendum. He picks a small electorate that he knows will side with him. When it does, he declares that the people have spoken. He has even called for a national referendum on whether to prosecute five of the six living ex-presidents of Mexico for corruption. As a stunt to remind voters of the shortcomings of previous regimes, it is ingenious. It is also a mockery of the rule of law.
The United States needs to pay attention. Donald Trump did not care about Mexican democracy. President Joe Biden should make clear that he does. He must be tactful: Mexicans are understandably allergic to being pushed around by their big neighbour. But America ought not to turn a blind eye to creeping authoritarianism in its backyard. As well as sending vaccines, unconditionally, Mr Biden should send quiet warnings.
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