- Marcos Gonzalez Diaz
- BBC News World correspondent in Mexico
For the first time in its history, Mexico will ask its population this Sunday if they want their president to continue in office or not.
The mandate revocation consultation arrives in the country presented as an exercise in democracy and with the firm support of its president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), a great defender of asking the people about various issues of his government.
However, the initiative has been strongly rejected by those who consider that this consultation is not necessary and that it only pursues reaffirm the image of the president, who continues to enjoy high popular acceptance according to surveys.
Previously held in countries such as Venezuela or Bolivia, Mexicans will have to choose in this consultation between two options that will define AMLO’s future: “that his mandate be revoked due to loss of confidence” or “that he continue in the Presidency of the Republic” until his term ends in 2024.
But given the low possibility that he will win the option of leaving, the real battle has focused these weeks between those who promote the vote to keep the president and among those who call for abstention. In fact, the campaign to vote in favor of revoking it has been practically non-existent.
Which will be the participation, therefore, is today the biggest of the keys. For the result to be binding, it is necessary that at least 40% of the electorate do so. In the consultation that raised last year the possibility of investigating former presidents, the first carried out under the legislation, less than 8% voted.
However, AMLO promised to abide by the result of this next consultation regardless of the number of attendance at the polls. “Here, under word of honor, for my convictions, for my principles, for my ideals, if the people vote for me to resign, I’m leaving, I don’t expect, it doesn’t make it not be 40% of the list that participates,” he said.
These are some of the most frequently asked questions (and answers) about the first presidential mandate revocation consultation in Mexico.
1. Why does AMLO support a referendum that could cost him the presidency?
“First, because he knows that the presidency will not cost him. And second, because populism requires litigation and polarization,” he replies. Luis Carlos Ugalde former president of the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute.
“And although he expected that there would be many parties promoting the option of his leaving and that would give him gasoline to make a national lawsuit, almost no one has promoted that vote,” he says in conversation with BBC Mundo.
But the defenders of the consultation assure that its objective is none other than to be a democratic exercise at the service of the people.
“Since the president began his social struggle more than 30 years ago, he has always promoted democracy and believes that if the rulers do not comply, the citizens can remove them. He says ‘the people put in and the people take out,'” he says. Gabriela Jimenez Godoy, national president of the civil association Follow Democracy.
“He sets himself as an example to be the first [la reforma constitucional sobre la revocación de mandato apenas entró en vigor en 2019]but what we want is that this also applies to the following presidents,” he says.
This association was the one that obtained the majority of signatures presented to the National Electoral Institute (INE) to request the consultation. It has been singled out for having links in the past with Morena, AMLO’s party, since the law prohibits political formations from being promoters of the revocation.
“I have some ex-deputies in my team but today they are not, they are citizens. What is important is that today no one has a public position so that we do not have use of public resources,” its president bluntly responds in an interview with BBC Mundo.
2. Why is AMLO unlikely to lose?
The great popular acceptance of AMLO makes an unfavorable result for him practically impossible.
According to a poll by Consulta Mitofsky published in the first week of April, your approval ishe 60.4%. A survey published by the newspaper El Financiero on April 4 placed it at 57%.
“That is why this consultation is unnecessary at this time, because we have a popular president and a stable country. I don’t see why use an instrument made for crisis situations and to be used by those who have lost confidence in the president and want remove it,” reflects Ugalde.
The current director of the legislative and political intelligence company Integralia Consultores assures that “this is not to measure whether it goes well or badly. The consultation is to remove someone because it puts the country at risk.”
Paradoxically, the main association promoting this revocation consultation does not seek AMLO to abandon his post, instead, he led the campaign for him to remain in his post.
“The objective is not to demonstrate the popularity of the president, that is what the polls are for. What we want is to set a precedent to exercise this right as citizens, that López Obrador be the first president to submit to the exercise so that it can also be applied in the future to governors and municipal presidents,” answers Jiménez Godoy.
3. But what if AMLO loses?
Dania Raven, electoral advisor at the INE, points to two articles as a basis for understanding what would happen in the unlikely scenario of a majority vote for the revocation of AMLO’s mandate.
“Article 84 of the Constitution establishes that the person who occupies the presidency of the Congress of the Union will provisionally assume the ownership of the Executive Power [presidencia del país] so that, in the following 30 days, Congress names who will end the period” as president, he points out.
Article 9 of the Organic Law of the General Congress of the United Mexican States, for its part, states that “the General Congress, constituted as an Electoral College, with the concurrence of at least two thirds of its total members, will appoint Interim President of the Republic The appointment will be granted by secret ballot and by majority vote of the members present.
After last year’s midterm elections, Morena and her allies lost the qualified majority (two-thirds) in Congress, but they still account for more than half of the representatives in the Chamber.
“There should be extraordinary elections to choose the replacement. If Morena could put the substitute for López Obrador, where is the change? If the town puts and the town removes, the town is the one that should put back. It’s all a contradiction,” criticizes Ugalde.
The expert predicts that, in case of winning the revocation, Mexico could find itself in a scenario of “political instability” until 2024 in which the newly elected president “could become even more radicalized.”
4. And why does the opposition promote not to participate?
Given this panorama, the option that has been most popularly promoted in the face of AMLO’s continuity is not to vote for his revocation, but rather not to participate in the consultation.
Ugalde assures that he will not vote because it is nothing more than “a political rally, a propaganda exercise to ratify the president and measure how well-liked he continues to be” and because none of the options on the ballot represent him.
“I am critical of the government like many others, but that does not mean that I want him to leave his post now. But if I vote for him to stay, the president will say that I am in favor of his government. I do not see myself represented in the options and for I believe that abstention is the best way to participate”, he explains.
Faced with criticism that the referendum is nothing more than government propaganda disguised as an exercise in democracy and that there are more important issues in Mexico to attend to, Jiménez Godoy responds that it is all “a right-wing strategy to delegitimize the work of the citizenship”.
“This has been a job that millions of people have done to promote democracy. We believe that Mexico should move towards a more direct and participatory democracy and that citizen consultations be more common in our country,” he says.
5. What participation is expected?
Given this scenario, the participation data will be the most anticipated on Sunday night and the key to knowing what reading its supporters and detractors will give the consultation.
The low turnout of voters achieved in the consultation to judge former presidents last year may set a bad precedent. Two months earlier, however, the parliamentary elections attracted more than 52% of voters.
Jiménez Godoy, from Let Democracy Follow, recognizes that it will be difficult to reach the 40% that would make the result binding and predicts the participation of some 30 million people [algo menos del 33% del electorado], pointing as a reason to “the obstacles of the INE” that “at all times wanted to suspend this process”.
The harsh confrontation between the electoral body and the promoters of the consultation -including the government itself- has been public and notorious, even requiring the positions of the Prosecutor’s Office and the Supreme Court between mutual complaints and accusations.
Initially, the INE requested 3.83 billion pesos (about US$190 million) to organize the consultation, but the amount authorized by the Chamber of Deputies was much less.
“Despite that, we went ahead with this exercise with the resources we had. It has been a frankly very complicated process.” recognizes Ravel, counselor of the INE, in an interview with BBC Mundo.
Finally, it ensures that due to this lower budget, the INE will deploy some 57,500 polling stations to vote, which is just over a third of the number installed in a federal election.
Ugalde, on the other hand, calculates the participation on Sunday between “12 and 15% of the electorate”, but he believes that this will not make AMLO recognize the failure of the initiative.
“He will accuse that the people wanted to speak, but that the INE blocked that participation, and the end of the story. It will be an irrelevant fact, that it will not transcend and in two weeks it will have been forgotten. Just like what happened with the consultation of former presidents, where he forgot about it after two days”, he concludes.
AMLO, for the moment, assured that he will vote in the consultation “because a democrat has to participate,” but he will not choose either of the two options. Instead, he announced that on the ballot he would write Long live Emiliano Zapata.
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