The Upper House of the Mexican parliament on November 27 approved a constitutional reform that allows for a trial against the country’s president. This measure removes the immunity that prevents an acting head of state from being prosecuted for acts committed during his presidential term. Why was the Mexican Senate a majority vote in favor of such a constitutional reform? How can such an initiative affect the political future of the country?
The reform, launched by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, President of the left wing, received 89 votes “in favor” and 23 “against” in the Upper House of the General Congress of the United Mexican States, ending the federal legislative process after The Chamber of Deputies approved this initiative back in September. The majority of senators voted for the project, which effectively deprives the country’s top official of immunity. The current framework stipulates that an acting head of state, while his government remains in power, can only be held accountable for high treason or serious general crimes.
The two chambers of the current Congress are dominated by the ruling “Morena” party, which, through a coalition vote, managed to collect the votes of two-thirds of the legislators present to approve the constitutional reform. Through the modification of two articles of the Constitution, the incumbent can be held accountable for any crime, such as corruption, after a preliminary political trial in the Senate. The federal authorities could also be charged with the same crime as the president.
“For the first time in history, we have passed a law abolishing the constitutional jurisdiction of the president”, – said the Senator Ricardo Monreal, one of the voters to lift the immunity of the head of state, stressing that the reform, approved by the Upper House of Congress, was an unprecedented event in modern Mexican history.
After the approval of this project in the Upper House of the Mexican Parliament on November 27, the initiative will now be sent to the congresses of 32 states, where it requires a vote in favor in at least 17 of them. If the constitutional reform is finally approved by the regional parliaments, Lopez Obrador will become the first president to be held accountable for high treason, corruption and electoral crimes, as well as any other crimes under the Article 108 of the Mexican Constitution.
The proposal to lift immunity for the head of state was put forward by López Obrador as a way to fight corruption and impunity, which were two of the main promises of his government. The current president took office in December 2018. Earlier, being in opposition, Obrador accused the presidents of corruption, but the legislative framework did not allow them to put forward formal charges.
In addition, the left-wing politician has called for a popular poll to be held in 2021 to determine whether to initiate a lawsuit against five former Mexican presidents for political decisions made during their governments. In fact, there is no legal need for this survey, since after the adoption of the amendments to the Constitution, the legal framework will make it possible to bring charges against ex-leaders. However, Lopez Obrador said that his government would only take legal action with the consent of the majority of citizens.
Turning to the origins of this issue, it is worth noting that in recent history of Mexico, only one of the former presidents, Luis Echeverria (Spanish – Luis Echeverria Alvarez) (1970-1976), was brought before the court on charges of crimes against humanity committed during the two massacres of students in 1968 and 1971 by military and government officials. The former head of state was charged with shooting a student demonstration on October 2, 1968; in 1971, the military shot a demonstration of students on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. In 2009, the court dropped the charges against Echeverría, now 98 years old, considering that there was not enough evidence found. Decades later, Luis Echeverria was acquitted by a special tribunal that investigated all the circumstances of the incident.
Today in Mexico, the possibility of prosecuting ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto is widely discussed. In June 2019, a criminal case was opened in the United States against Peña Nieto, who held office from 2012 to 2018. The investigation suggests that the former head of state received a bribe from the oil company “Pemex” as part of the sale and purchase of the unprofitable private company “Fertinal” in 2015. According to experts, the company was acquired for an inflated amount. Nevertheless, Nieto denies all charges. Later, by order of the court, Rosario Robles (Spanish – María del Rosario Robles Berlanga), who served as the Minister of Social Development under Enrique Peña Nieto, was arrested in Mexico.
To date, news releases from Mexico often resemble “reports from the battlefield”: in January-August 2019, 12 journalists were killed in this Latin American country, the bodies of six people were found in the city of Zamora (Michoacan state, Mexico), activists staged an action protest at the building of the Mexican General Prosecutor’s Office, demanding a more thorough investigation of the case of the rape of a minor girl. At the very beginning of his electoral campaign, Lopez Obrador pledged to eliminate corruption and fight lawlessness. Nevertheless, the implementation of the main points of his program requires a structured approach. However, according to a number of analysts, the Senate’s approval of the constitutional reform was a very indicative step, demonstrating the government’s readiness for dialogue.