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Critics of Mexico's new electoral law changes say democracy is under attack

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Thousands of people marched in Mexico City over the weekend to protest a decision that would overhaul the country's independent body that oversees elections.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Protesters say the decision to reduce the National Electoral Institute's staff and independence is a threat to the country's democracy and could return Mexico to the days of one-party rule. Mexico's president says the reforms are about cutting costs.

FADEL: Leila Miller is a correspondent for the LA Times, and she joins me from Mexico City. Good morning, Leila.

LEILA MILLER: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

FADEL: So let's talk about these reforms, if you could just lay out what they do and what people are worried about.

MILLER: Sure. These are reforms that were passed last week that would dramatically reduce the size of Mexico's Electoral Institute and would also remove a lot of autonomy that it has. It gets rid of, you know, what - the officials from the Electoral Institute say that thousands of jobs, the people that organize elections on the ground across the country would be removed. And what it also does is it removes the power that the institute has to discipline candidates if they violate campaign finance laws. People are basically worried about - is that the Electoral Institute won't have the manpower to organize elections and that this is essentially a threat to Mexico's democracy.

FADEL: What has the president, the government, said about why they're doing this?

MILLER: So the president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has said the electoral agency needs budget cuts. He's been, you know, pushing austerity measures across the board, across his government. He's tried to discredit the people that are protesting by, you know, saying that these are people that have, you know, somehow benefited from corruption in the past and want to have a system in place that will benefit them that way. You know, there were thousands and thousands of people that were protesting this reform over the weekend. He's even tried to connect the protesters to Genaro Garcia Luna, the former top Mexican law official that was recently convicted of taking bribes from drug traffickers in New York.

FADEL: Just to clarify, he's trying to connect them to undermine the protests, saying that they're not legit protests?

MILLER: Exactly. He's saying that the protesters really don't care about democracy. This is not what this is about. He's saying that the protesters want to keep a corrupt system in place.

FADEL: And what concerns might the U.S. have about these changes - these election changes in Mexico?

MILLER: U.S. officials have spoken out about the reform. They've been saying that the president is trying to sabotage democratic institutions. You know, there's a worry that changes like this could return Mexico back to the days when it was under a one-party system, when the same party was in power for decades because of corruption and because there wasn't a strong electoral institute.

FADEL: Leila Miller is with the LA Times, and she's based in Mexico City. Thank you so much for your time.

MILLER: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.