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Rebecka Villanueva Ulfgard (2023) López Obrador’s hyper-presidentialism: populism and autocratic legalism defying the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Institute, The International Journal of Human Rights, 27:8, 1267-1291


This article analyses a growing concern with Mexico’s democracy as regards the idea of separation of powers since the takeover of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on 1 December 2018. To this end, it explores the tension between the executive’s hyper-presidentialism and independent institutions, specifically the Supreme Court and the National Electoral Institute. Drawing on the ideational approach to populism and autocratic legalism sustaining a new form of hyper-presidentialism in Mexico, the article examines five extraordinary cases revealing how the executive’s ideational aspiration, which seeks to ‘transform’ Mexico, and methods amounting to autocratic legalism fundamentally challenge the integrity and independence of said institutions: a) the so-called Zaldívar Law (named after the former Chief Justice, a last-minute amendment aiming to extend his term); b) the failed energy reform; c) the public consultation on the prosecution of former presidents; d) the recall vote; and, e) the electoral reform. The article concludes the recent election of a new Chief Justice could be seen as a revindication of the Supreme Court’s autonomy, whereas the institutional integrity of the National Electoral Institute remains contested in the unsettled electoral reform.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.