Mexicans vote whether president should stay or go

Sofia Miselem - Agence France-Presse
Mexicans vote whether president should stay or go
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (L) and his wife Beatriz Gutierrez show their voter ID after voting at a polling station during the national consultation on the revocation of his mandate in Mexico City, on April 10, 2022. Mexicans will vote Sunday in a divisive national referendum championed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on whether he should step down or complete his six-year term.

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Mexicans voted Sunday in a divisive national referendum championed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on whether he should step down or complete his six-year term.

While recall elections in other countries tend to be initiated by political opponents, Mexico's vote is the brainchild of Lopez Obrador, who enjoys an approval rating of nearly 60 percent.

The 68-year-old president, who was elected in 2018, cast his vote in front of the press with his wife at a polling station near the presidential palace.

As promised, he intentionally spoiled his ballot with the words "Long live Zapata!" in homage to a Mexican revolutionary hero.

"Let no one forget that the people are in charge," declared Lopez Obrador, who had vowed not to vote for himself to remain impartial but said it was important to take part.

Supporters of the referendum — the first of its kind in Mexico — say it is a way of increasing democratic accountability, giving voters the opportunity to remove the president due to loss of confidence.

"Now we have the chance to change what's not right. There have been presidents who, after being elected by the people, ended up serving other interests," Benigno Gasca, a 57-year-old mathematician and musician, told AFP.

But critics see it as expensive propaganda and an unnecessary distraction from the many challenges facing the country, including drug-related violence, poverty and the rising cost of living.

"It's a useless exercise — money thrown away," said Laura Gonzalez, a 62-year-old retired teacher.

Experts said turnout was likely to be well below the 40-percent level needed for the vote to be legally binding.

Opposition parties urged Mexicans to abstain from voting in what they call a "populist exercise."

Eyes on turnout

Some 93 million voters were eligible to participate in the midterm referendum, which was incorporated into Mexico's constitution in 2019 at Lopez Obrador's initiative.

Most of the signatures that were collected in order for the vote to happen came from his supporters.

Given the popularity of the anti-corruption austerity advocate, his presidency is not at risk "at all," said political analyst Martha Anaya.

On the contrary, the referendum could give impetus to his policy agenda, such as controversial energy reforms, she said.

The president also has his eye on the 2024 elections and the prospects for his party and possible successors, including Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.

The Mexican constitution limits presidents to one term, and Lopez Obrador has vowed to retire in 2024, following accusations by opponents that the referendum is a step towards trying to stay in power.

Lopez Obrador enjoyed an approval rating of 58 percent in March, although that was far below a peak of 81 percent seen in February 2019, according to a poll of polls by the Oraculus firm.

Carmen Sobrino, a 64-year-old housewife, said she heeded the call to vote because she was happy with Lopez Obrador.

"I hope he continues," she said after casting her ballot in the capital.

Another voter, 59-year-old economist Flor Mercedes Rodriguez, saw the referendum as a chance to "resume the culture of citizen participation... It's the sustenance of democracy."

The president has accused the National Electoral Institute of sabotaging the referendum in collusion with his political opponents by failing to do enough to promote it.

The body, which unsuccessfully sought a larger budget, said it would set up around 57,500 polling stations, compared with 161,000 in a normal national election.

Voting will end at 6 pm (2300 GMT) in most of the country, with the result expected to be announced late Sunday.



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