North America

Mexico votes in referendum on prosecuting ex-presidents

Published : August 02, 2021 17:05 IST

Mexicans turned out to vote in an anti-graft referendum on August 1. Photo: Christian Palma/AP Photo/picture alliance

The country's president says that the referendum is good for democracy. But critics are calling it a political stunt.

Mexicans voted on August 1 in a national referendum on whether to investigate and prosecute former Mexican presidents for alleged corruption. While President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the referendum would strengthen participatory democracy, critics dismissed it as a political stunt.

Polls opened at 8 a.m. (1300 UTC) and were due to close at 6 p.m., with a quick count of the votes expected late on August 1.

To be binding, 37.4 million people or 40 per cent of eligible voters must participate for the result to be binding. But there were concerns about turnout. At some Mexico City polling places on August 1, attendance appeared light.

'Not even the lawyers' understand referendum question

The referendum question proposed by Lopez Obrador concerns his five predecessors — Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderon, and Enrique Pena Nieto, whose terms in office stretched from 1988 to 2018. The unclear wording of the question on the ballot paper has come under fire.

The exact question reads: "Do you agree or not that the pertinent actions be carried out, in accordance with the constitutional and legal framework, to undertake a process of clarification of the political decisions made in the past years by the political actors, aimed at guaranteeing justice and the rights of potential victims?"

"Not even the lawyers understand it," analyst Paula Sofia Vazquez told news agency AFP.

Initially, Lopez Obrador drafted a more direct question but it drew angry denials. This prompted the country's Supreme Court to modify the referendum question for the more ambiguous alternative.

Referendum faces further stumbling blocks

Critics argue that the vote is unnecessary. Former National Electoral Institute president Luis Carlos Ugalde said that if prosecutors have evidence against the ex-presidents, it's not necessary for "the people to tell you yes or no." Opponents wrote in a slogan: "The law must be applied, not put up for a vote."

The referendum has suffered from lack of resources. The National Electoral Institute (INE) set up around 57,000 ballot boxes. This was compared with more than 160,000 for June's legislative and local elections. It carried out limited promotion activities.

While the "yes" vote could win up to 90 per cent, it would be difficult to achieve even 30 per cent turnout which would then make the result invalid, said Roy Campos, director of the polling company Mitofsky.

kmm/rs (AP, AFP)