Mexico’s president tests his political muscles with a referendum on his future

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a pugnacious leftist who has ruled since December 2018, is the architect of modern Mexico’s first so-called recall referendum, and critics and supporters expect him to win easily.

The vote fueled speculation it could open the door to extending presidential term limits in a country where the head of state is only allowed to serve a single six-year term.

Lopez Obrador denies wanting to extend his term, but he used the referendum to excite supporters and rattle the opposition, many of whose leaders encouraged Mexicans to ignore the vote as a propaganda exercise for the president.

Opinion polls suggest turnout is likely to fall short of the 40% threshold required to make the ballot binding, although a steady stream of voters entered polling stations in Mexico City on Sunday and videos posted to social media show officials from the president’s party working hard to secure the vote.

“Democracy must become a habit in Mexico,” the president told a crowd after leaving a voting booth, “so that no one forgets that the people are the ones who govern.”

Lopez Obrador said he would respect the result regardless of plebiscite turnout, which is also a test of his strength ahead of gubernatorial elections in June.

He has failed to deliver on campaign promises to reduce violent crime and revive the economy, confusing investors by trying to renegotiate contracts issued by previous governments and tightening state control over natural resources. and energy.

But his successful rollout of welfare programs and the relentless daily depiction of a political narrative in which he plays the role of a morally upright defender of the poor against a corrupt and wealthy elite have helped boost his popularity.

Many Mexicans still view the popular Lopez Obrador as a welcome departure from former leaders often seen as aloof from the wider population in a society that remains highly unequal.

“I want the president to stay in power,” Guillermina Gomez said after voting in the central state of Tlaxcala.

The 60-year-old housewife said the president’s welfare programs had enabled her grandchildren to enroll in high school, which had been impossible for her own children due to her low household income.

“Thanks to him, we received benefits that no one else gave us,” she said.

LITIGATION

Costing millions of dollars and widely publicized in the capital, the referendum asks Mexicans whether Lopez Obrador’s mandate should be revoked “due to a loss of confidence” or if he should end his term as scheduled on September 30, 2024. .

Two-thirds of Mexicans polled in a poll by the El Financiero newspaper earlier this month said they wanted him to stay.

Yet Maribel Rosas, 36, who voted for Lopez Obrador to become president, said she voted to have him removed from office on Sunday, arguing he was not helping the middle class and encouraging the social polarization.

“This division will get us nowhere,” said Rosas, a Mexico City resident who works in advertising.

The president accused the National Electoral Institute of trying to thwart the referendum, which he denies. He indicated he will blame him if the vote is lukewarm.

Lopez Obrador was elected by an overwhelming majority in 2018, winning more than 30 million votes, by far the highest total in Mexican history. The closer the turnout gets to that number, the more the referendum will be considered a success, analysts say.

Polling stations are open between 8:00 a.m. (1:00 p.m. GMT) and 6:00 p.m. local time (23:00 GMT). The electoral authorities must publish a first estimate of the result in the evening.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Diego Ore; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Porter)

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