AMLO Wants Referendum on Probing Ex-Leaders as Midterm Looms

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador signed a request calling for a referendum on whether his predecessors should face investigations for corruption, in a high-stakes political move designed to amp up anti-graft rhetoric ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

The president, known as AMLO, said on Tuesday that a popular petition calling for the vote had garnered close to two million signatures, as required by regulations, but that he would still send his own request to the senate to make sure the referendum takes place.

The five “neoliberal” presidents who held office between 1988 and 2018 oversaw a period of “generalized corruption, tainted electoral processes and government practices that caused a rise in violence, public insecurity, a violation of human rights, impunity as a norm,” AMLO said at his daily press conference.

Felipe Calderon, who governed Mexico between 2006 and 2012, said the move was a “clear sign of political persecution and abuse of power” and likened AMLO to a Roman emperor.

“Instead of taking evidence to the attorney general, he is asking the multitudes whether to condemn or pardon innocent people by pointing his thumb up or down,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

With the economy seen contracting the most in almost a century and Mexico battered by the coronavirus pandemic, Lopez Obrador has leaned heavily on his electoral promise to end the graft that he says has been rampant in Mexican politics since the 1980s. The vote may take place in June to coincide with key legislative and local elections.

While AMLO said he will vote against investigating the ex-presidents, he argues it’s important that the people take a position on the subject. Still, the Supreme Court must decide whether the referendum is constitutional before it can be held.

Since his election in 2018, AMLO has used non-binding referendums of questionable legal legitimacy to justify some of his policy decisions. He canceled a $13 billion airport project based on a plebiscite-like vote with tiny turnout even before his swearing-in ceremony.

Earlier this year he called off a partly built $1.5 billion beer plant in Mexicali, on Mexico’s northern border, after a local referendum where participation was just under 5% of registered voters.

The decision to call a plebiscite on Mexico’s former presidents comes as AMLO himself was forced on the defensive last month after videos surfaced showing his brother taking cash from an operative who later became a government official. The videos were published as the country’s elite reeled from reports that a former chief of state-owned oil giant Petroleos Mexicanos had alleged that three former presidents were guilty of bribery.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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