Analysis-Mexican president aims to forge legacy, trap opposition with unlikely reforms

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 5:07 AM

By Diego Oré

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The bumper reforms package Mexico’s president stitched together in the dying days of his presidency may fizzle in the legislature but it points to his desire to build a legacy and mould the political agenda of his handpicked successor.

Making no secret that the package is an attempt to influence the debate before the June 2 poll his protégé Claudia Sheinbaum is favored to win, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has conceded it’s unlikely Congress would pass many of his proposed 18 constitutional and two legal reforms.

Yet the breadth of the changes spanning generous pensions, above-inflation minimum wake hikes, election of judges by a popular vote and many other modifications may put the opposition on the defensive while leaving his stamp on the country, analysts say.

“This legislative package seeks to consolidate his legacy by changing many of the institutions set up since the 1980s that he believes were designed to benefit special interests,” said Daniel Kerner, Eurasia’s managing director for Latin America.

The package, which would hike pensions to cover 100% of final salaries of some employees, doubles up as an attempt to “shape” Sheinbaum’s policy program, Kerner added.

Other key reforms envisage abolishing many autonomous and regulatory bodies which act as a check on presidential power and reducing the size of a Congress Lopez Obrador deems bloated.

As the president’s ruling Morena party lacks a qualified majority in Congress necessary to change the constitution, it is likely to be down to Mexico City Mayor Sheinbaum to take the baton given her wide poll lead in the presidential race.

Some opposition parties have already announced that they will only support a handful of the proposed changes – depriving Lopez Obrador of a chance to deepen what he terms Mexico’s “Fourth Transformation”, his national revival project.

The most likely reforms to pass are the least contentious ones, including prohibiting animal abuse, establishing extra support for agricultural workers and an obligation to raise the minimum wage above inflation.

Targeting Mexico’s vast income gap, Lopez Obrador’s administration has raised the minimum wage by double digits every year since he took office at the end of 2018. The policy has been one of Morena’s most popular given that roughly half of Mexicans earn the minimum wage.


Still, Lopez Obrador may have succeeded in putting the opposition in a bind. If they vote down popular reforms like his pension hike plan which critics slam as endangering fiscal stability and undermining investor confidence, they risk being perceived as a brake on prosperity, analysts say.

And if Lopez Obrador’s administration rams through all, or some, of the proposals, it will be a triumph that signals to many the need to keep Morena in power.

“Without a doubt the president has made an interesting cocktail with this decision: he dominates the media agenda, offers his candidates a popular electoral script and forces the opposition to define itself and puts them on the defensive,” said Antonio Ocaranza, analyst and one-time spokesman for ex-president Ernesto Zedillo.

Lopez Obrador’s critics dismiss the reforms as an attempt to distract from his failures like rampant drug violence and a weak public healthcare system. His administration has also fallen short in addressing the country’s worsening water shortages.

Yet Lopez Obrador’s populist package looks like a wining electoral strategy, Ocaranza said.

“It has been a master move to dominate the conversation until election day,” he added.

($1 = 17.0760 Mexican pesos)

(Reporting by Diego Oré; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Andrea Ricci)