Mexico’s president steps up reform plans during last months in office

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Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has proposed a radical constitutional overhaul as he uses his final months in office to try to reshape the country’s institutions and dictate terms for his successor.

A set of about 20 changes proposed on Monday include plans for a directly elected supreme court and a smaller legislature. The plans would also ban fracking and eliminate an institute charged with enforcing government transparency.

They also include a bid to give workers pensions equal to their final salary.

López Obrador, president since 2018, characterised the reforms as a way to undo the policies of his “neoliberal” predecessors. “Everything approved by legislators in that long and nefarious period was characterised by a desire for profit and a contempt for the majorities,” he said.

The president’s Morena party does not have the votes to pass the changes now but hopes to be able to proceed after elections in June, which will be the largest in Mexico’s history by number of seats contested and will determine López Obrador’s successor and a new congress. The president, who cannot run for re-election, is due to leave office in October.

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Meanwhile the proposals allow him to set the agenda during the campaign, putting pressure on the opposition and his protégé, Claudia Sheinbaum, to either push back or support them.

“It is a political will and testament,” said political analyst Sabino Bastidas. “[It is] control of his movement and his successor, it is a strong ideological message for inside his party.”

López Obrador won the presidency in 2018 with an anti-establishment, man-of-the-people image that has allowed him to maintain an approval rating of 55 per cent.

The leftist leader has pursued unorthodox policies, including severe cuts to the civil service, handing unprecedented economic power to the military and increasing spending on social programs and the minimum wage. He has also stepped up criticism of the opposition, media and institutions that he accuses of trying to hold back his agenda.

Within the past 12 months Mexico’s Supreme Court has blocked some of his key reforms, making the institution a target for his supporters. The constitutional change proposed on Monday would make the court’s justices directly elected.

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The current presidential frontrunner is Sheinbaum, a former Mexico City mayor who is 16 percentage points ahead of opposition candidate Xóchitl Gálvez, according to a January poll by El Financiero newspaper.

Sheinbaum has promised to build the “second floor” of López Obrador’s political project and says she backs the changes he is proposing.

However political analysts said the next president would be unlikely to match López Obrador’s popularity. His successor will also face more intense fiscal pressures and have to try to curb organised crime groups that have been gaining territory and control.