MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s Supreme Court suspended a controversial electoral reform bill on Friday after it was slammed by the country’s political opposition as an “attack” on democracy ahead of next year’s polls.

The bill, which had been approved last month by lawmakers mostly from the ruling party, slashes the budget of the country's electoral commission -- a key independent institution mandated to safeguard elections.

Tens of thousands of Mexicans have taken to the streets to protest the bill, which they say weakens the commission and tips the balance of power in the upcoming polls in favor of the ruling party.

The country’s Supreme Court said Friday that Judge Javier Laynez had “accepted the suspension requested by the National Electoral Institute (INE) concerning all the articles of the decree that are contested.”

The court said the suspension will be in place until it resolves the case, and “the provisions in force prior to the respective reform remain in force.”

The court said it granted the suspension because of the “possible violation of the political and electoral rights of citizens.”

It also set a deadline for the country's Parliament and executive branch to submit their legal response.

The INE has said the bill will reduce its operating capacity and will lead to the sacking of most of its staff.

The bill is a watered-down version of more radical reforms President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had previously proposed.

Under his initial plan, the INE would have been replaced by a new body with members chosen by voters instead of lawmakers.

The commission said the latest version of the bill would endanger the electoral process for the country's 93 million voters and limit its ability to monitor election propaganda or sanction public officials.

Lopez Obrador has alleged that the INE endorsed fraud when he ran unsuccessfully for the presidency in 2006 and 2012, before winning in 2018.

He argues the reform will improve voting in the country, and has claimed the protests were orchestrated by a group of “corrupt” people who want power for themselves.

The president cannot seek reelection as the constitution bars more than one six-year term. - AFP