If democracy were a football game, one of its exemplary referees would be the lawyer Pamela San Martín (Mexico City, 44 years old). Today a consultant and political analyst, she was from 2014 to 2020 one of eleven advisers of the National Electoral Institute, an institution in charge of organizing and arbitrating free elections in Mexico.
In those years, he was in charge of organizing at least 30 local elections throughout the country, including the Constituent Assembly of Mexico City in 2016. He chaired the Radio and Television Committee from 2014 to 2015, which guarantees that all parties and candidates have access to the media, and from 2017 to 2020, it focused on monitoring that parties and candidates comply with the funding rules determined by law.
EL PAÍS the interview about the largest elections in the history of Mexico, the interventions of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in the electoral process, and the challenges faced by the INE to protect its legitimacy.
Question. The INE denounced López Obrador for making electoral propaganda on 29 out of 36 mornings, and the president has accused the INE of being a biased entity against his party. Is there any precedent for a similar tension between the Executive and the INE in the recent history of Mexico?
Answer. A climate of tension, let’s say, over the table, an explicit tension between the president and the authority: no, it has no precedent in recent history. Pressures below the table, attempts to influence the electoral referee through indirect mechanisms, there we would be talking about other issues. But this dynamic that has occurred in this election is unprecedented.
This raises a set of concerns. On the one hand, due to the characteristics of the confrontations: they show a president who, outside the Constitution, has been intervening in electoral processes. The Constitution expressly prohibits – not only the president but all public servants – from seeking to influence electoral preferences for or against any candidacy or any party.
But the president has acted more like a party president in the confrontation with the Institute. Does it concern me that he does not care for the INE? Well, no, I don’t care. The president has the right to say what he considers, just as anyone can criticize the INE. But when this is done outside the Constitution, there it becomes problematic.
On the other hand, this tension has replaced an important part of the electoral campaign debate. Instead of talking about political competition, they were talking about the discussion between the INE and the president, and I think that does not contribute to the better development of the electoral process.
The INE itself has also contributed to this problem based on the way it has dealt with those same discussions, and the way it has dealt with some of the decisions they have made. I share a large part of them, but they required better explanations from the public.
Q. What decisions in particular are you referring to?
R. There were two archetypal moments in the confrontation between the INE, and the president, and Morena. First, when the issue of overrepresentation arises , to guarantee better representation in relation to votes / seats according to the Constitution; and then when there were the record losses of Felix Salgado Macedonio and Raúl Morón .
Q. Regarding the second, what do you think of that decision that disqualified the candidates Salgado Macedonio in Guerrero and Morón in Michoacán?
R.That it is not a new decision, because the criteria had been set by the INE in 2016. The rule was: if you do not present me with a campaign expense report, the consequence is that the registration is denied or canceled. But the Electoral Tribunal, in 2016, did not agree with the INE, and returned the candidacies to those for whom the INE had lowered their candidacies.
There was an explanation from the Electoral Tribunal at the time, they said it was because the INE had not guaranteed a hearing and so on. The INE then established a procedure to do what the Tribunal wanted it to do. And now, in 2021, the INE applied the same rule that it had applied before. But now, the Court did not help. In what sense? He said: ‘I tell you that you value it, but I return it to you so that you value it, and then you return it to me’,
A couple of weeks later, the INE solves a case of the governorship of San Luis Potosí , which, according to the INE, is the same assumption. And now he decides that no, that the registration does not necessarily have to be lost, that now the moment in which we are in the competition is valued, and then, now, the right to be voted and the right to vote of the citizenship, that the relevance of the Prosecutor’s Office and accountability. What happened there?
The question is, why did he change his criteria? Say, if you are going to change your criteria as an authority, a much broader explanation is required as to why I took a different criteria before and now I’m going to change it. Because if not, it seems that it is a game of cravings. And that does not contribute to the discussion.
For this reason, I believe that the questions have to be put in a certain and fair dimension. Is there a brutal interference from the president? Yes, have there been things that the INE has done that have raised questions about its decisions? I also think so.
Q. What do you think of the proposals to reform the INE?
R. Today, I believe that this is a discussion in the context of the heat of the contest. Today, for me, it is not yet an issue. When this is finished, and reform projects begin to be presented, then we begin to discuss. But hey, after the 2018 election, 50 reform initiatives were presented, and none were discussed.
Many of my colleagues at the INE were very concerned at the time, and finally not a single one passed for discussion. Right now many of the remarks about the reform have been given in response to the decisions that the INE has taken, decisions that a party did not like. Those kinds of answers are not that I like them, but they don’t surprise me.
P. Sunday’s elections are the largest in Mexico, 2,415 popularly elected positions. Do you see the INE prepared for the challenge that is coming?
R. For the challenge on Sunday there is no problem. Perhaps we say INE and we think of the General Council, but the INE is a very large institution that is made up of many public servants who do their job impressively well. It also reassures me that for weeks the issue seems to be not the coronavirus, because sufficient security measures have been taken, and it is not heard that people are afraid to vote for the virus.
The next stage, which is going to be very complex, is the control of party resources and the control of male and female candidates. After June 6 comes the stage of solving the audit. This process began throughout the campaigns, but its resolution comes in this space. There, there are areas of opportunity for the INE.
The INE will have to give much better results than it has in other years. I think that if there is a space where it is necessary to strengthen the work of the INE, it is in the examination. There he will face a great challenge that we will see how he faces it. I hope you have taken all the precautionary measures so that this does not become an additional problem to what will probably be the post-election conflict, which is the conflict if defeat is not accepted.
Q. Are you worried that the attacks on the INE will get worse if the parties or the president do not accept the results?
R. Yes, I am concerned about the unacceptability of the defeat, and not only by the Government. We have a brutally polarized country between two ideas that focus on the only one that is not theoretically in the competition, which is the President of the Republic. Either you are in favor of the president or you are against.
And all the political campaign what we have seen is that, that discussion with the president. What are the proposals? What are the projects? Even what does it mean to be for or against the president? Or the president is the future and the hope of this country; or the president is the authoritarianism that is coming to Mexico and the return of the PRI of the 70s.
We have been absolutely orphans of any kind of proposal. And in this logic, in that strong polarization, and in the face of a tradition of the parties in previous elections of not accepting defeat, how are you going to react to this defeat? Not only from the Government. The results will most likely bring a judicialization of the election and a very complex environment, whatever the result.
Q. Are you concerned that the legitimacy of the INE will be affected if this fight worsens after Sunday?
R. It worries me, but it worries me more that the INE itself is not in front of it. The legitimacy crisis, the way to address it is not by asking the president to stop criticizing, but by making decisions with accountability, with a rigor that allows the decisions to speak for themselves. I believe that it is not a question of asking the president for another style, but rather the INE’s own performance can be the greatest guarantor of its legitimacy.
Q. Perhaps this is putting salt on the wound, but do you think it was a mistake of the Electoral Tribunal not to suspend the mornings during the electoral campaign?
R. I, honestly, would have suspended the mornings as it had been done previously. I can find a logic in which the mornings were not suspended in the context in which we are, because the Constitution establishes that [government] propaganda during the campaign is valid if it is subject to the exceptions of health, education or civil protection in an emergency. Clearly we have a permanent health and civil protection issue in the country at this time. So under that context, I would understand.
Be careful, that was not the reason given by the Court. The Court spoke in general that there was no problem with the morning conference being held because it was another way of communicating, as long as X was not said. I understand a logic that there must be a space for the dissemination of information, of health and civil protection.
The thing is, 99% of mornings don’t do it. Let’s say, how a wanting to be permissive with the president would understand it under that gaze. But when the president talks about everything except that, I don’t find much justification for him. I think it was a mistake and that the consequences are being lived.