Congressional Vote to Strip Immunity from Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador Could Bring Political Instability

Article excerpt

The Mexican Congress has added fuel to an electoral tinderbox with a decision that could lead to removing Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from office and from the 2006 presidential race. On April 6, the Chamber of Deputies voted 350-127, with two abstentions, to strip Lopez Obrador of political immunity from prosecution.

Lopez Obrador is accused of violating the Mexican Constitution by ignoring a court order in 2001 to halt construction of a road to a hospital through property that the Mexico City government had expropriated.

In May 2004, the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) asked Congress to allow prosecution of Lopez Obrador by removing his immunity (see SourceMex, 2004-05-26). The PGR said it was acting at the request of the courts.

The Congress took almost a year to deliberate on the request. On April 1, a special four-member committee (Seccion Instructora) finally recommended in a 3-1 vote to send the case to the full Congress for a vote. Those voting in favor of the recommendation were the two members of the former governing Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and the representative from President Vicente Fox's Partido Accion Nacional (PAN). The "nay" vote was cast by the representative of Lopez Obrador's center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD).

The April 6 vote in the Congress was also cast along party lines. The PRI, which holds a large plurality in the lower house, voted overwhelmingly to remove Lopez Obrador's immunity. Only 12 of the 224 PRI deputies in the lower house voted against the resolution. One dissident was Deputy Roberto Campa Ciprian, a critic of party president Roberto Madrazo.

The PAN and PRD cast unanimous votes, with the conservative party supporting removal of immunity and the center-left party opposing it. One of the abstentions was former PAN legislator Tatiana Clouthier, who left the party in March in a dispute regarding the election of the new party president (see SourceMex, 2005-03-30). The other legislator who abstained was PRI Deputy Maria del Carmen Izaguirre.

Among the minor parties, the Partido del Trabajo (PT) and Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD) generally followed the PRD line, while members of the Partido Verde Ecologista Mexicano (PVEM) were divided.

PGR to seek Lopez Obrador's arrest

While the congressional vote leaves Lopez Obrador open to prosecution, authorities had yet to take legal action against him as of the second week of April. Lopez Obrador, anticipating an arrest, took a leave of absence from his post and appointed his government secretary Alejandro Encinas as interim mayor.

The PGR was expected to request the mayor's arrest sometime during the third week of April. He would then be imprisoned pending a trial. If he were found guilty of the charges, he would likely be banned from participating in the 2006 election.

Lopez Obrador pledged to face justice as soon as the PGR asked the courts for an arrest order. "The moment a judge receives that request, I am going to turn myself in at the jail," the mayor told reporters at his house.

If Lopez Obrador is not able to return to his post, or decides to resign, it could set up a nasty turf battle between the PRD-dominated Mexico City legislative assembly (Asamblea Legislativa del Distrito Federal, ALDF) and the Mexican Congress.

The ALDF, in defiance of Congress, passed a resolution rejecting the ouster of Lopez Obrador and then brought the matter before the high court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN). The court agreed to appoint Justice Olga Cordero to review the ALDF complaint to determine if there had been any violation of the Constitution on the part of Congress. If Cordero determines that there might have been a violation of the Constitution, the full court would hear the case.

The Congress responded by bringing its own complaint against the ALDF, accusing the Mexico City legislative assembly of "usurping" powers reserved for the federal legislature. …