MEXICO CITY —
Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech. He urged Mexicans to gather at the Zocalo and vote in April to decide if they want him to be removed from office two years earlier than he wanted.
” None of. Lopez Obrador stated Wednesday at the rally to celebrate his midterm that “if one who governs is not up to the task and obeying people, revoke their mandate and out!” “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”
The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.
Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.
Families and marching bands making their way to the Zocalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired Lopez Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.
“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo Leon with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”
Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.
So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. This tally does not include signatures that are duplicates or contain other irregularities. )
Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. Lopez Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.
“He sees his power as a result of people repeating their support actively,” Francisco Gonzalez, a Johns Hopkins University professor of Latin American politics, said. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”
Since taking office, Lopez Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.
His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.
Critics also are concerned about Lopez Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. During the election season, statements made by Mexican public officials are usually forbidden.
But the president’s vision for transformational change continues resonate with many voters who see him as a paternal figure. Lopez Obrador continues to engage with his electorate through press conferences held every morning.
” The figure he created of an honest, honorable, and incorruptible person — that helps him, in a society used to seeing terribly corruption politicians,” Rene Torres Ruiz, a political science student at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City.
Despite gathering enough signatures, there are still hurdles that must be overcome before a referendum can take place. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.
Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase Lopez Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.
“He wants to be able to vote.
Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote Lopez Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.
Luis Chazaro from the Party of the Democratic Revolution said that the referendum had been “transformed into a promotional tool of the party.” He did not intend to participate.
In Coyoacan, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”
Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.
“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,'” she said.
Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He sees the referendum “a form of manipulation”, and is suspicious of the reason why the president contradicted the National Electoral Institute by claiming that it does not have enough funding to hold a vote he has fought for.
Maria de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support Lopez Obrador without hesitation.
Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. She will track down the video later on YouTube if she has to miss one. In case she hasn’t heard something, she also listens to summary.
Before Lopez Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City. She called Lopez Obrador a simple man who won her trust with his anti-corruption platform. She was eager to tell how the government had set aside money for youth job training, and increased welfare payments for the elderly.
“He has given us our dignity back,” she stated. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”