This article first appeared in BBC News on August 02, 2021.
The low turnout marked this Sunday’s citizen consultation in Mexico that Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) had promoted with the intention of “investigating and judging” the five previous presidents.
The quick count of the National Electoral Institute (INE) estimated that only between 7.07 and 7.74% of Mexicans called to vote turned out to cast their ballots, far from the 40% needed for the result to be binding.
In spite of everything, AMLO described it as a “success” on Monday.
The “yes” vote was the majority option among those who voted (between 89.4% and 96.3% of the votes) and much higher than the “no” vote (between 1.4% and 1.6%).
The consultation was considered unprecedented for being the first one held at federal level following the channels established by the Constitution since this figure was included in it and was regulated by a federal law of 2014.
However, since its call it received strong criticism from those who considered that this issue should not be submitted to popular consultation, that the question asked was very ambiguous and that it was not known what the real consequences of the result would be.
Throughout the day, the predominant image in many of the voting points was the small number of people who came to cast their vote, far from the long lines seen in the mid-term elections of last June.
President AMLO’s initial proposal was to ask the population whether his five predecessors should be investigated and tried for alleged crimes committed during their terms: Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto.
However, the Supreme Court ordered to modify the wording to preserve the presumption of innocence of the aforementioned, since the Constitution does not allow consultations if they violate the human rights of the citizens.
Thus, the ballot on which Mexicans answered this Sunday contained as a question whether or not they agreed 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 the possible victims”.
Part of the Mexican population saw this initiative as an opportunity to end impunity and guarantee justice for the victims of historic cases of human rights violations in the country.
However, many others criticized the fact that this issue had to be submitted to a popular vote and that the law would not be applied directly, so they said they would not participate as they did not consider the question relevant.
In addition, many considered “ambiguous” the question finally posed, as well as the lack of clarity about what would be the real effects and consequences after the consultation was held.
“I was not very much in agreement with the consultation,” Julia Ferreira, a young woman who came to vote in Mexico City, admitted outside a polling station.
“But I am very much in agreement with holding past governments accountable, specifically Ayotzinapa (the disappearance of 43 students), the decisions in the framework of the drug war… So it seems very important to me to participate,” she told BBC Mundo.
Everyone is happy
Analysis by Marcos Gonzalez Diaz, BBC News World Correspondent in Mexico
There were no surprises with the popular consultation in Mexico, neither in terms of its results nor in the subsequent reactions of supporters and critics of the initiative.
As expected, the opposition and all those who decided not to vote because they believed that “justice is not consulted” described it as a failure due to the very low participation and the scarce interest achieved among the population, which made some voting points look almost empty.
And as was also expected, AMLO shielded himself when reading the results in the more than predictable fact that the vast majority of those who voted did so for the “yes” vote.
“I am happy with the results, besides, never before have so many people participated in a consultation of those that have been registered historically,” said the president on Monday.
“It is a triumph that 6,474,708 citizens have participated (…). Even with all the confusion of the question, people realized what it was about because the majority voted yes, 97% voted yes,” he added.
Nor was it surprising that he continued to point to INE as one of those responsible for the low turnout. “It is not a matter of budget, it is a matter of will, when you want it you can, they did not have enthusiasm (…). The number of ballot boxes could have been extended,” he criticized.
The next litmus test regarding the support of the President’s government will be in March 2022, with the mandate revocation consultation in which AMLO predicted that “many more citizens will participate because people will be asked if they want the President to continue or resign”.
The reading of its results and specific consequences will be, foreseeably, much clearer and less uncertain than those of this Sunday’s consultation in which it would seem that everyone won.
What will happen now?
Despite having actively promoted the consultation, AMLO did not participate and, paradoxically, said he would vote “no” if he had done so because he assures he is not seeking “revenge” against the former presidents.
But in anticipation that the initiative would achieve a low participation, the president already blamed this Saturday the possible failure on the lack of diffusion and publicity about the consultation and the fact that “there are not enough polling places” to vote.
The INE, in charge of the organization, failed to get Congress to increase its budget, so it spent US$26.5 million and installed one third of the polling stations that were installed in the last elections.
The failure to reach the required 40% turnout makes the consultation non-binding.
But the president of Morena (AMLO’s party), Mario Moreno, preferred to emphasize the victory of the “yes” vote and insisted on Sunday that they will propose the creation of a truth commission and “a commission against impunity for the economic crimes of neoliberalism”.
“A great day for our democracy, the yes won (…). The people’s clamor for justice greatly outweighed the no,” he wrote on Twitter without making any reference to the low turnout.
The opposition, however, was quick to harshly criticize the result. “The failure of the popular consultation showed once again that Mexicans are fed up with a government that hides in the past to avoid facing the present,” tweeted PRI president Alejandro Moreno.
Who also pronounced himself with irony after the results were known was former president Vicente Fox, one of those pointed out in the first formulation of the question of this consultation.
“Historic day. The lowest vote of all time!!!”, he tweeted.