López Obrador won Mexico presidential recall vote, but critics blast electioneering tactics

The president, whose victory never was in doubt, benefited from his Morena party’s use of illegal tactics to get out the vote that critics say could weaken Mexico’s democracy.

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Mexico President Andres Manuel López Obrador shows his identification card after voting in a national referendum on whether his six-year term should end barely midway through.

Mexico President Andres Manuel López Obrador shows his identification card after voting in a national referendum on whether his six-year term should end barely midway through.

Eduardo Verdugo / AP

MEXICO CITY — President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s successful push to hold last weekend’s recall vote could paradoxically leave Mexico’s democracy weaker, some analysts in Mexico say.

López Obrador declared the referendum, in which he was strongly supported by the few Mexicans voters who participated, “a complete success” and “historic event” that was a victory for “participative democracy,” noting that Mexicans had never before been allowed to vote on whether a president should be recalled from office.

But his Morena party used illegal, old-style electioneering tactics to get out the vote for what was a largely symbolic vote.

López Obrador never was in doubt of losing the referendum, with his approval ratings hovering around 60%.

Still, the president saw getting large numbers of voters to show up was the real measure of his political movement. Turnout was about 16.5 million, or only about 18% of eligible voters — far below the 40% turnout needed to make the vote binding.

Mario Delgado, the leader of López Obrador’s party, boasted of having driven around in a van, picking up people to take them to polling places — a practice that’s illegal in Mexico.

Delgado posted photos in his social media accounts showing him driving the van, which was painted with the words “Do you want to vote? I’ll take you there!” The van later was shown loaded with people who had voted.

Clara Jusidman, an economist and civic activist, said some government employees also were required to bring a minimum number of people to polling places — a practice reminiscent of the old Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico for seven decades until it lost the 2000 elections.

“A lot of rules were broken that had been established to protect against government intervention, the use of public funds to promote [a vote] and ’client’ politics,” Jusidman said, referring to people who feel they have to vote to keep their government benefits.

The president himself has criticized elements of the electoral system that emerged after decades of near one-party rule in an effort to strengthen democracy, among them independent electoral authorities established in the late 1990s in an effort to help ensure fair play and equity in elections. López Obrador has pledged to overhaul the National Electoral Institute, contending that it is too expensive and is hostile to his Morena party.

Critics said the referendum was the real waste of money. They said it cost almost $80 million and was just a way for López Obrador to rally his base midway through the single term that Mexico’s presidents are allowed. And they said they worry that changes to the electoral institute are likely to decrease its autonomy and independence.

López Obrador has expressed a dislike for independent regulatory and oversight bodies in general and has sought to eliminate some of them.

Luis Miguel Pérez Juárez, an authority on democratic transitions at the Monterrey Technological Institute, said the president never has had much affection for the electoral institute, known by its initials as the INE, which occasionally tries to limit what elected officials can say ahead of elections.

“Ever since he came to power, the INE has bothered him,” Pérez Juárez said.

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