Mexicans are called to the polls this Sunday (1) for an unusual vote. This is a popular request where they will have to answer “yes” or “no” to a long question. In short, whether the citizens are for or against the investigation into possible crimes committed by the former presidents of the country.
The formulation of the question is a novel in itself. Populist left-wing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who created the proposal, wanted the issue to be more direct and name the former presidents. The country’s Supreme Court approved the referendum but vetoed the format of the investigation. And the question ended like this:
“Do you agree or not that the relevant actions be taken, in compliance with the constitutional and legal framework, to initiate a process of clarification of political decisions taken in recent years by political actors and to guarantee justice and rights? potential victims? .
(Finally) longer but more fluid, the new formulation is also very evasive. It is not clear which are the “relevant actions”, who are considered “political actors” (this can be interpreted as going far beyond the former presidents), nor who are the “possible victims”.
So much subjectivity has led some critics to claim that the text, if approved, lends itself to a distortion that serves the political goals of those in power.
For liberal political historian and essayist Enrique Krauze, AMLO (as it is called) would trade “perfect dictatorship for plebiscite dictatorship,” which would be another sign of its authoritarian populism.
“Perfect Dictatorship” was a controversial classification made by Peruvian Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa to describe 70 years of PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) hegemony in the country, often by fraud.
“In the plebiscite dictatorship, you ignore existing constitutional tools and throw decisions directly on the people, making a law look democratic,” Krauze said.
In Mexico, former presidents and other politicians can now be investigated if there are complaints against them. It is up to the courts to decide whether or not to open an investigation.
This is not the first time that AMLO has decided to put into practice what it always repeats as a slogan. “Do we have a problem? Let’s ask the Mexicans what to do.”
This has happened before with minor issues, with only an advisory character, but which ended up reinforcing their own decisions.
AMLO has already asked Mexicans if they want to see the construction of the new Mexico City international airport halted or the construction of a thermoelectric power station in the state of Morelos resume.
The construction of the Maya Train, in the south of the country, was also a reason for popular consultation.
The consultation on former presidents, however, is the only one which deals with a constitutional issue and which has an impact on the political and judicial system. Under Mexican law, for a plebiscite to be binding, more than 40% of registered voters must go to the polls. This means around 37 million people.
This is a high figure if you take into account the fact that in the last regional elections on June 6 the turnout was 52%. Yet a poll published by Mexican newspaper El Universal on the 23rd indicates that 43.4% of Mexicans intend to vote.
For Santiago Aguirre, director of the human rights NGO Prodh, the consultation is positive because “it extends participatory democracy in Mexico and places the victims of political decisions at the center of attention”.
As for Carlos González Martínez, human rights specialist, the format of the consultation “may not be the most correct, but it will bring something good, namely to discuss a truth commission for crimes of violence committed during the period ”.
The measure, if approved, targets the following former presidents: Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-94), of the PRI, accused of privatizing public property for the benefit of friends in power; Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000), also of the PRI, for a case in which he allegedly transformed a private debt into a public debt; Vicente Fox (2000-06), of PAN, for also allegedly granting concessions to the mining industry without competitive bidding; Felipe Calderón (2006-12), of PAN, whom AMLO accuses of committing fraud in the election in which the current president was beaten, and which is under investigation for abuse in the fight against drug trafficking; and, finally, Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-18), of the PRI, for corruption, a process already underway.
For José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, “López Obrador turns the Mexican legal system into a Roman circus, where the punishments are divided between the will of the emperor and that of the crowd.
Vivanco drew attention to the fact that the Attorney General of Mexico is the body which, if it has evidence of wrongdoing by former presidents, “must decide whether or not to continue the proceedings. is not subject to public opinion “.
Mexican political analyst Denise Dresser says the consultation leaves room for more impunity. “López Obrador assumed with the promise that he would uncover and bring to justice those responsible for the Ayotzinapa massacre [em 2014, quando desapareceram 43 estudantes], and did not. There is evidence that Enrique Peña Nieto was involved in Odebrecht’s bribery scheme, and both cases have stalled. It gives the impression that the president is the one who does not want the prosecution of the military and Peña Nieto. “
According to Dresser, the strategy for bringing the question to a popular consultation is precisely “to be able to stand idly by if the ‘no’ wins.” For her, AMLO would be relieved “if the soldiers, a key element of his government, were not tried in the Ayotzinapa case, and Peña Nieto either, whom he criticizes in public, but with whom it seems that there is have a tacit agreement. for mutual impunity, ”he said.
For Dresser, again, the referendum would be a populist way of “reaffirming your leadership, diverting people’s attention from other important issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.”
Mexico has already claimed more than 240,000 lives since the start of the pandemic, and López Obrador has taken a stance of denial from the start.
At first, it encouraged people to go out, kiss, and go to popular restaurants. Subsequently, he received criticism and eventually backed down, but he continues to make statements that discourage the use of masks and social distancing measures.
Recently, he played down the effects of the virus, stating that his teenager was infected, but “he continued to live with his family peacefully, because in young people the virus does not have serious effects, and my wife and I are already vaccinated “.
Economically, López Obrador is facing the effects of the 8.5% GDP contraction in 2020. Despite this, his popularity index remains high, at 58%, according to the latest Mitofsky survey.