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The Mexican president leads his supporters on a march through the capital

MEXICO CITY — Two weeks after tens of thousands of Mexicans protested proposed electoral changes they say would undermine democracy, Mexico’s president marched through the capital on Sunday accompanied by massive crowds to show popular support for his term in office. .

In a taste of the 2024 presidential election, supporters of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, some traveling hundreds of miles by bus to the capital, came with Mexican flags, marching bands and even soft toys in form of president as they filled the heart of the capital. , chanting “It’s an honor to be with Obrador.”

Mexico’s political opposition and some members of civil society have spoken out against the march, calling it a show of force by a leader they portray as a budding authoritarian who uses state resources – including programs social – to maintain its popularity.

The president has denied the accusations, but the hold Mr. López Obrador maintains over many Mexicans was on full display on Sunday.

Some said they were there to show their support for a president who had benefited them economically through welfare programs, although they were less aware of Mr López Obrador’s more specific political goals – including changes controversial elections that he hopes to have ratified.

The overhaul would give the president more control over Mexico’s electoral systems, but while Mexico’s Congress began discussing the proposal earlier this month, Mr López Obrador does not have enough votes for it to be passed. adopted.

Opposition members fear the president will try to push through the changes by other means before the end of the year. Mr. López Obrador has recently used presidential decrees to enact some of his most controversial policies.

Sunday’s march was an attempt by the president to show popular support for his overall mandate as well as his bid to overhaul the electoral system and increase his power over the body that oversees voting, the National Electoral Institute.

He came two weeks after a march to isolate the institute from changes attracted tens of thousands of supporters. This demonstration was the largest opposition march of this presidency.

When Mr. López Obrador addressed the crowd on Sunday afternoon, his speech focused heavily on the social programs his government has put in place while circumventing the rising violence and worsening situation security that has plagued the country since taking office in 2018. Some four years after taking office term. the president maintains an approval rating that hovers around 60%, making him one of the most popular leaders in the world.

“Love is rewarded with love,” he said when he took the stage.

Mr. López Obrador cited the austerity spending program his government has been pursuing, which has required some officials to bring their own toilet paper and drinking water to some state agencies, according to employees. “In our government,” he said, “there is no luxury or waste.”

This has freed up more money to direct towards the welfare system, although some independent economists say the programs are not run as efficiently as under previous administrations and distribute assistance regardless of need.

On Sunday, supporters of the president filled the 2.5-mile stretch of the Angel of Independence monument at the Zócalo, the seat of government power, where Mr. Lopez Obrador addressed a crowd of supporters late in the day.

Alfredo Ramirez Martínez, 56, a farmer who traveled about 300 miles by bus to Mexico City from Oaxaca state, said he came to support a president who “helps the most needy people”.

But he said he was disappointed with the deteriorating security situation in his hometown. “It will always exist,” he said.

Critics of Mr López Obrador said he and his government pressured Mexico’s powerful unions to attend Sunday’s march and accused municipalities governed by the ruling party of pressuring citizens to that they attend, by paying for the buses to transport them to the capital.

“What the march shows is the fear of the president and his administration: that is, of losing power in the 2024 elections,” said opposition member Claudio X. González Laporte politician who helped organize the protests earlier this month. “I believe that we are facing an authoritarian man who seeks at all costs to preserve power, is ready to circumvent the Constitution and the laws to achieve this.”

Although González agreed the president maintained high approval ratings, he pointed to the loss of congressional seats the ruling party suffered in last year’s election.

The president maintained that Sunday’s turnout was genuine.

Hundreds of members of Mexico’s huge electricity and construction unions waved the flags of their unions and the ruling party. Buses bearing signs of their origin were parked across the capital, with protesters stepping out of vehicles as mariachi bands serenaded crowds heading for the Zócalo.

The opposing marches in recent weeks have exposed a fractured Mexico, where Mr. López Obrador has over the past decade created a political party that has greatly outgrown his opposition. But the ruling party faces major hurdles ahead of the 2024 presidential elections, including a weakening economy.

Mr López Obrador is constitutionally barred from running for a second term, but he is believed to be positioning a party loyalist as the presidential candidate so he can maintain influence once he steps down.

Magdalena Molina García, 62, a housewife from Mexico City, said she attended Sunday’s march to express her support for a president who had increased her and her family’s access to social programs, including a beacon for young Mexicans.

But Ms Molina said she did not support the president’s ‘hugs, not bullets’ security strategy. Mr. López Obrador used the phrase to describe a tactic of spending more to steer young people away from the country’s powerful drug cartels and towards a more meaningful life.

“I would never kiss a criminal,” she said. But, she says, “I’m 100% an Obradorista.”

nytimes Gt

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