—- La Jornada editorial
According to the rapid initial count released last night by the National Electoral Institute (INE), the recall vote held yesterday in Mexico showed overwhelming support for Andrés Manuel López Obrador remaining in office as President. Between 90.3 and 91.9 percent of those who voted chose this option, and only between 6.4 and 7.8 percent were in favor of revoking the mandate the President received from the electorate in 2018. In additional 1.6 to 2.1 percent appear to have annulled their vote.
Even though these were provisional figures, the numbers will hardly vary significantly in the course of the vote count, for the simple reason that the great majority of opposition formations –parties, business associations and the media- decided not to participate in this democratic exercise and called on the population not to vote.
The other substantial figure is that of voter participation. According to the electoral authorities, the turnout was between 17 and 18.2 percent of the voter registration list. This figure, which represents between 15.77 and 16.89 million votes, must be compared with the three previous exercises in popular referendums. These were the referendum to decide the fate of the airport that the Enrique Peña Nieto administration had begun to build in Texcoco (October 2018), the vote on whether special projects of Lopez Obrador’s platform and social programs should be implemented (November 2018), and the consultation in which society was asked whether former presidents should be brought to trial (August 2021).
In the first referendum, 1.22 percent of the electorate participated; in the second, 1.05 percent, and in the third vote, 7.11 percent. It should be recalled that the first two were organized by civil society without the involvement of the electoral institute and that in the third referendum, just like yesterday’s, the INE, based on the pretext of lack of budgetary funds, installed only one third of the polling places required to receive ballots from the more than 92 million citizens enrolled in the voter registration lists. The INE put a priority on middle class urban areas and made it very difficult, if not impossible, for millions of inhabitants of rural regions and low-income neighborhoods to vote.
From this chronological overview, and taking into account the reluctance of the electoral authorities to carry out and publicize the recall referendum, what transpired yesterday represents a formidable leap forward in the construction of a participatory democracy and, even more so, for the empowerment of society over those in power.
Although the result of the exercise was foreseeable, and even though it provides legitimacy and political capital to the current president, its importance goes far beyond the current six-year administration and the Lopez-Obrador presidency. It sets an invaluable precedent in terms of accountability, social counterweight, and limits to public power. It has become clear that a population exasperated by a government that betrays its mandate, is corrupt or behaves in a despotic and authoritarian manner, can be deposed through the same ballot boxes that brought the president into office in the first place.
If until yesterday the only solutions open to a massive and majority social discontent was resignation until the end of the president’s term in office or insurrection, the recall referendum opens the door to the peaceful channel of democratic voting, which implies an historical and civilized step forward, as well as a concrete instrument for applying the principles contained in Article 39 of the Constitution.
It is to be hoped that in the future, popular referendums will become a regular practice in the country’s democratic life and, as in terms of recall votes, will be extended to all those holding elective office. And finally, it is to be hoped that the INE will be subject to a thorough reform to turn it into a truly democratic body.