Mexico’s Voters Largely Skip AMLO’s Referendum to Probe Ex-Leaders
(Bloomberg) -- A nationwide referendum spearheaded by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to investigate his five predecessors came up far short of the turnout needed to make it legally binding, signaling a lack of urgency in the Mexican president’s key anti-corruption campaign.
Only 7% to 8% of eligible voters cast ballots Sunday, shy of the 40% needed for the referendum to force authorities to take action, the nation’s electoral agency estimated hours after the vote concluded. Of those who did show up, 89% to 96% agreed former leaders needed to come under scrutiny.
While the referendum was set up for a feeble outcome after the Supreme Court made the question far murkier than the original version, the low turnout could embolden opposition parties that have questioned the president’s priorities, including his anti-graft crusade.
Lopez Obrador, who is often called AMLO, said Monday that the vote was an important exercise in participatory democracy. He noted that Sunday’s referendum had more voters than any other in the country’s history and said he expected far more turnout next year, in a national referendum on his presidency that asks whether the public wants to remove him from office early.
“This practice is going to become a habit, a culture, and we’re going to pass it on to the new generations, for which reason I’m happy with yesterday’s results,” he said at a press briefing. “Regardless of whether it’s binding or not, it’s important that this democratic process moved forward so that nobody feels untouchable, or absolute, at any level of the ladder.”
Lopez Obrador clarified that the result did not mean that the attorney general’s office could not take action against ex politicians, if it had evidence against them, and he proposed that legislators lower the 40% minimum in the future.
The electoral agency said in a written statement that it would provide the final results of the vote to the Supreme Court to determine constitutionally-required next steps.
Carlos Perez Ricart, professor of international relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), said that the low turnout was a lost opportunity both for the president and the victims’ rights groups that supported the vote. He said, for voters, participating in future referendums would now seem even less worthwhile, after witnessing what came of this one.
“If the result had actually interested the president, surely the machinery of his party would have done much more than it did,” he said. “Symbols are important but they are not sufficient. This government focuses a great deal on symbolism, but it lacks realism.”
Felipe Calderon, Mexico’s president from 2006-2012, retweeted on Sunday an article from the El Financiero daily indicating the vote “failed,” a comment that received over 12,000 likes on Twitter. Vicente Fox, the president before him, tweeted on Monday, “It didn’t seem at all like a ‘popular vote.’” Neither president was explicitly listed in the question given to voters.
AMLO reiterated on Monday that referendums would be less costly if they could be wrapped into election-day voting, instead of held on separate days. He also said he expected the electoral agency to set up more polling stations in the next referendum, criticizing it for its lack of initiative Sunday as part of a long-simmering feud between himself and its members.
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