Presidential referendum in Mexico becomes political football

Midterm vote on whether Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador should remain in office has become strange debate involving all three branches of government

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced gleefully on Monday that his supporters had collected 10 million signatures in favour of the referendum. EPA

A referendum allowing Mexicans to vote midterm on whether the president should remain in office has become a strange political football involving all three branches of government.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced gleefully on Monday that his supporters had collected 10 million signatures in favour of the referendum — several times more than is legally required. Though this could put his future at risk.

There is little apparent reason to hold the referendum and the constitution does not require it. Mr Lopez Obrador has received positive ratings from about two thirds of those polled and would no doubt win the vote to serve out the second half of his six-year term.

But the president's political style consists of constant campaigning: he was on the campaign trail non-stop from 2005 to 2018 — and he seems to enjoy it.

So, he is demanding a referendum, even though it will cost about $200 million and electoral authorities say they do not have enough money.

The issue went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ordered the National Electoral Institute to hold the April 10 referendum anyway.

And some members of Congress, dominated by the president's Morena party, weighed in by filing a criminal complaint essentially accusing electoral officials of blocking democracy.

With the signatures in hand, the president now considers the matter settled and appears to wish that criminal complaint would go away.

“Let the people decide, let it be the people,” Mr Lopez Obrador said. “Let's end the complaints and the accusation and organise it already.”

The opposition National Action Party calls the referendum “a very expensive and unconstitutional piece of political theatre” and said the money would better be spent on creating jobs, reactivating the pandemic-battered economy and alleviating poverty.

Patricio Morelos, professor at the Monterrey Institute of Technological Higher Education, said Mr Lopez Obrador is eager to hold the vote because it was one of his campaign promises. It would also serve to energise his political base before the 2022 gubernatorial races and the 2024 presidential elections.

The National Electoral Institute wrote in a statement that the criminal complaint from the members of Congress was an act of “intimidation and an attack on our autonomy".

While the institute is independent and non-partisan, Mr Lopez Obrador has frequently accused its member of being “conservatives” that are opposed to his policies.

Updated: December 27th 2021, 11:25 PM