Mexicans are voting on whether the president should stay or go

Mexicans will vote on Sunday in a national referendum championed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on whether to resign or end his six-year term.

While new elections in other countries tend to be initiated by political opponents, Mexico’s election is the brainchild of Lopez Obrador, who enjoys an approval rating of almost 60 percent.

The 68-year-old president, elected in 2018, and other supporters of the referendum – the first of its kind in Mexico – say it is a way to increase democratic accountability.

People walk past posters promoting a referendum to remove the president from office in Mexico City Photo: AFP / ALFREDO ESTRELLA

“Now is our chance to change what is not right. There have been presidents who, once elected by the people, served other interests,” Benigno Gasca, a 57-year-old mathematician and musician, told AFP.

But critics see it as an expensive propaganda exercise and an unnecessary distraction from the many challenges the country faces, including drug-related violence, poverty and rising costs of living.

“It’s useless exercise – money thrown away,” said Laura Gonzalez, a 62-year-old retired teacher.

Experts say turnout is likely to be well below the 40 percent mark required for a legally binding vote.

A billboard in Mexico City encourages people to vote for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to keep him in office in a mid-term referendum A billboard in Mexico City encourages people to vote for President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to keep him in office in a mid-term referendum Photo: AFP / Pedro PARDO

Opposition parties have urged Mexicans to abstain from voting in what they call a “populist exercise”.

Around 93 million voters can take part in the midterm referendum, which was included in the Mexican constitution in 2019 at the initiative of Lopez Obrador.

“Finish and go” is the slogan on a T-shirt worn by a demonstrator at a demonstration in Mexico City against the referendum to recall the president Photo: AFP / CLAUDIO CRUZ

Most of the signatures collected for the vote came from his supporters.

Given the anti-corruption austerity advocate’s popularity, his presidency is “not at risk at all,” said political scientist Martha Anaya.

On the contrary, the referendum could give impetus to his political agenda, such as controversial energy reforms, she said.

The president is also eyeing the 2024 election and the prospects for his party and possible successors, including Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.

Mexico’s constitution limits presidents to one term, and Lopez Obrador has vowed to retire in 2024 after opponents accused the referendum was a step towards staying in power.

Lopez Obrador enjoyed an approval rating of 58 percent in March, although that was well below a peak of 81 percent in February 2019, according to a poll by the company Oraculus.

The president accuses the National Electoral Institute of sabotaging the referendum in concert with his political opponents.

The body, which unsuccessfully sought a larger budget, will set up around 57,500 polling stations, compared to 161,000 in a normal national election.

Voting begins at 13:00 GMT and ends at 23:00 GMT in most parts of the country, with the result expected to be announced late Sunday.

Lopez Obrador has overseen a series of referendums on controversial issues since taking office, including his Maya Train rail project and the cancellation of a partially completed Mexico City airport.

A public consultation held in August on whether his predecessors should be prosecuted for alleged corruption drew only a small fraction of voters to the polls.

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