Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Mexico on Sunday to oppose changes to the National Election Institute. Photo by Madla Hartz/EPA-EFE
Feb. 27 (UPI) -- More than 100,000 Mexican residents crowded the Zocalo plaza near the presidential palace in Mexico City to protest changes to the National Election Institute they charge would weaken the agency.
President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador has complained that the NEI has become too big and unaccountable. The protests on Sunday opposed his remedy, which seeks to cut its budget and staff to the tune of $150 million annually.
Some, though, see the NEI that has allowed Mexico to avoid one-party rule for decades after elections have been accused of being tainted the years before. They see the agency as being the backstop of Mexico turning into Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro continues to serve after what many experts have seen as a disputed election.
Many of the protesters wrote pink, the official color of the agency, during Sunday's protest.
"This is our last hope," former opposition Mexican legislator Guadalupe Acosta Naranjo, told The New York Times. "We want to defend the court's autonomy so it can declare these laws unconstitutional."
Critics have alleged the effort to weaken the NEI is a ploy by Obrador, who is not allowed to seek re-election under Mexico's constitution, to remain in power.
His party currently holds a majority in Congress and many governor's offices and is expected to maintain its hold in the nation's upcoming elections.
Obrador said, though, that the protesters are trying to turn the clock back when Mexican elections could not be trusted as a true reflection of voters.
"They're going to show up because there are vested, corrupt interests that want to return to power to continue stealing," Obrador said at a news conference before the rally. "So don't try to say 'it's that we care about democracy.' It's that democracy is being damaged."