Mexico’s response to the pandemic continues to be dismal. Vaccination and access to adequate testing remain insufficient. Meanwhile, violence has not abated — on the contrary: Mexico has had one of its bloodiest years on record. Horrific scenes abound. The economy was stalling before the pandemic, and its prospects have not improved. A recent contraction and historic inflation warn of a possible crisis.

That sounds like a list of urgent priorities for any president — except for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In fact, over the past few months, he has been preoccupied with an almost surreal display of political theater: promoting a recall election against himself.

It’s clear that the president has no plan to tackle the real issues. Beyond his mishandling of the health crisis, he refuses to set a basic example, flouting mask requirements in public even when symptomatic (on Monday, he tested positive for the coronavirus for the second time). As violence escalates, he is doubling down on his “hugs, not bullets” strategy, while expanding the military’s role in the country’s public life.

As the economy deteriorates, López Obrador has been left to thank remittances from the United States as a lifesaver, a strange turn of events for a man who vowed Mexican migration north would end under his watch (it has, in fact, increased).

In theory, Mexico’s presidential recall, a law approved during López Obrador’s tenure, could be a game changer. In a country where presidents serve six-year terms, the possibility to recall a government could bring much needed accountability. Sadly, López Obrador and Morena, his governing party, have used the law as propaganda.

López Obrador’s consistent popularity means that no meaningful figure in the opposition has sought to collect the roughly 3 million signatures needed to initiate the recall process. This has left the president and his party in an absurd position: promoting a process they would then fight tooth and nail to defeat. Over the past few months, López Obrador sympathizers could be found actively seeking support for an election that could, in effect, end his presidency.

If successful, López Obrador’s attempt to initiate his own recall would trigger a massive national election organized by the country’s federal election commission, the INE. By law, the INE would have to install polling places similar to a presidential election. This, of course, takes money, and plenty of it: an estimated $200 million. The kicker? López Obrador’s Morena slashed INE’s budget, hindering its ability to organize the recall in the terms specified by law, leading the commission scrambling to establish a recall sought only by the president and his party and effectively hobbled by, well, the president and his party. Peak farce.

What is truly going on? A combination of political narcissism and something more sinister: the conscious dismantling of trust in Mexico’s independent institutions. After INE’s independent assembly complained and advised it might have to delay the recall for lack of adequate funds, López Obrador and Morena officials publicly berated the commission. Leading Morena congressman Sergio Gutiérrez Luna threatened legal action against INE’s counselors (he later backtracked). López Obrador decried salaries within INE as “immoral” (he had previously called the commission, one of the most respected independent institutions in Mexico, a “threat to democracy”).

The INE is a respected and popular institution built to prevent uncertainty in a country marred by a history of electoral chicanery. That López Obrador is now trying to undermine its support speaks more of his intolerance of independent watchdogs than of INE’s inexistent corruption. López Obrador has now vowed to seek an electoral reform that would further weaken the INE’s autonomy. If he proceeds with such folly, he will have crossed an authoritarian Rubicon.

Perhaps, once López Obrador survives the recall of his own invention, he will finally get to the business of governing. Submerged in a long list of very concrete challenges and problems, Mexico demands a government interested in the sensible exercise of power, not in its accumulation.