President López Obrador sent a request to the Senate Tuesday to approve a national consultation in which citizens would be asked whether the five most recent former presidents should face justice for crimes they allegedly committed while in office.
“Our decision is to submit a document to the Senate [proposing] the carrying out of a consultation of the people of Mexico about the possible prosecution … of the ex-presidents of Mexico from 1988,” he told reporters at his regular news conference.
López Obrador said that any prosecution of past presidents would proceed only after a proper investigation was carried out within the framework of the law and with respect to due process.
His decision to submit a formal request for a vote on whether past presidents should face justice means that the ruling Morena party’s efforts to collect signatures of support were essentially pointless.
According to the constitution, a consultation can be approved by the Congress if it receives a request for one from the president, 33% of the members of the lower or upper house or at least 2% of citizens who are enrolled to vote.
Morena launched a campaign earlier this month to collect 2 million signatures in support of a consultation. Party president Alfonso Ramírez said the aim was to collect that number of signatures — only 1.8 million were needed — to ensure that there were no excuses for a consultation not to go ahead.
Members of Congress and the president himself predicted that the effort to collect the signatures required would fail but López Obrador said today he had been informed that the 2 million mark had been reached.
Nevertheless, he said he decided to present his own request in order to ensure that a consultation proposal is put before the Congress.
“I believed that it was important to present this document as well to have more certainty about the request for a consultation of all citizens,” López Obrador said.
While supportive of a consultation – the president likes to portray himself as a champion of “participatory democracy” – AMLO, as the president is widely known, has said that he won’t vote in favor of prosecuting his predecessors because he prefers looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past.
However, López Obrador is prone to abandon that stated mindset, frequently railing against his recent predecessors and blaming them for all manner of problems that plague the country including insecurity, inequality, impunity and corruption.
Despite his formal backing for a vote, there is no guarantee that one will be go ahead, according to Marco Pérez, a law professor at the La Salle University in Mexico City.
In an interview with Forbes México, Pérez described the plan to hold a consultation as “cheap politicking” and “totally unviable.”
He said the constitution establishes that human rights and mechanisms designed to protect those rights cannot be subjected to consultation. “It’s clear that due process is a human right” and it would be violated by a vote because ex-presidents would be “prejudged” for alleged crimes they may not have committed, he said.
If a consultation is given the green light, Pérez said, the Supreme Court would have to review the wording of the question posed to citizens to ensure that it was not biased and didn’t violate the ex-presidents’ rights.
The academic also said that authorities have an obligation to advise the federal Attorney General’s Office if they have proof that a current or former official has committed a crime. No consultation is needed, Pérez said.
Felipe Calderón, who along with Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox and Enrique Peña Nieto could be investigated should a majority of citizens support the initiative, said much the same.
“López Obrador is confusing the [Mexican] republic with a Roman Circus: instead of going to the Attorney General’s Office [FGR] with proof, he’s asking the masses if innocent people [should] be convicted or forgiven by giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. [It’s] a regression of thousands of years in terms of justice,” he wrote on Twitter.
“If he has well-founded proof against me, he should go to the attorney general today and present it without the need for a consultation. But if he doesn’t have proof or specific accusations, … he should stop harassing me and respect my rights like any other citizen,” Calderón said.
The former president, who defeated López Obrador at the 2006 election and has long had a testy relationship with him, accused the current president of political persecution and abuse of power.
Calderón also said that AMLO’s proposal to hold a consultation violates the “fundamental guarantees” of “presumption of innocence, due legal process, justice via an independent court, exclusive investigation by the [attorney general], protection of life, honor and dignity.”