The National Electoral Institute (INE) has indefinitely postponed a referendum on President López Obrador’s leadership on the grounds that it doesn’t have sufficient funds to organize the vote.
A so-called “revocation of mandate” referendum in which citizens would have the opportunity to vote in favor or against the president completing his six-year term was slated to be held on April 10.
But in a 6-5 vote on Friday, INE councilors approved the postponement of the exercise, raising the ire of López Obrador and the ruling Morena party. The INE will, however, continue counting and reviewing signatures of support for the referendum. At least 3% of eligible voters, or more than 2 million Mexicans, must back the vote in order for it to go ahead.
INE president Lorenzo Córdova said that organizing a referendum with 161,000 voting booths was not viable following an almost 5-billion-peso (US $241.2 million) cut to the institute’s funding.
“With the money the INE has today, [a large vote] simply can’t be organized. … We have to be categorical and clear – an exercise such as the revocation of mandate cannot be carried out under the terms established by the federal legislature,” he said.
Córdova, who has previously clashed with the president on electoral issues, said that López Obrador could solve the problem by directing the Finance Ministry to allocate additional funds to the INE. He stressed that the electoral authority was not canceling the planned vote but merely putting it off to a later date.
The vote could still be held in April if Morena successfully challenges the INE decision in court.
“It is not the INE that is today placing the celebration of an eventual revocation of mandate [vote] at risk but rather those who took the political decision to deny the resources needed so that this process can be carried out with all the guarantees of legality and certainty,” Córdova said.
In light of the INE’s decision, Morena national president Mario Delgado called on lower house lawmakers with his party and its allies to initiate misconduct cases against the electoral councilors for violating their constitutional duty.
“The INE is going against the constitution, they [the councilors] don’t have the authority to do what they did,” he told a press conference.
“… The INE councilors have decided to join the conservative bloc,” Delgado said before asserting that it’s clear that they are not the electoral councilors Mexico needs.
Sergio Gutiérrez Luna, a Morena lawmaker and current president of the Chamber of Deputies, subsequently announced that an appeal against the INE’s decision would be filed with the Supreme Court.
Mario Llergo, another Morena deputy and that party’s representative to the INE, accused the institute of seeking to “twist” the law and trying to stop the referendum any way it could.
“In Morena, we’re not going to allow Mexicans’ rights to be trampled on. Call it postponement, suspension or whatever term that want … [but] we think it’s incorrect,” he said.
“If the budget shortage they allege is real, [the INE] should have the will to reduce [the use of] resources where we all know they are not needed,” Llergo said.
The president and Morena lawmakers have been highly critical of INE spending, claiming it has not adopted the austerity measures demanded of federal agencies.
López Obrador called the INE’s decision “very regrettable” and charged that it has a constitutional responsibility to organize the referendum.
“… We used to live in a political system characterized by simulation; democracy was spoken about … but in fact anti-democratic attitudes dominated and this is what is on display [here]. … If they don’t want to comply [with the constitutional obligation to organize the vote] and they use excuses, it’s part of the same old simulation,” he told reporters at his news conference on Monday.
The president has a penchant for participatory democracy, having held several legally questionable referendums, or “consultations,” since his 2018 election, including those on the previous government’s Mexico City airport project, a brewery in Baja California and whether past presidents should be investigated for crimes they might have committed while in office.
According to Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University, López Obrador perceives his power “as being a function of people reiterating their support actively.”
“He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico,” he told The Los Angeles Times.
Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the United States-based Washington Office on Latin America, told the Times that victory in the planned referendum on his rule would provide the president with added impetus to execute his agenda.
“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.
Some critics have warned that López Obrador could use a strong result in the referendum – it requires 40% participation to be binding – as a stepping stone towards extending his presidency beyond the established six-year term.
Opposition politicians have accused the president of using the vote as a promotional tool and many supported the INE’s decision to postpone it.
The government “must admit that nobody is obliged [to do] the impossible,” said National Action Party president Marko Cortés.
“Especially … [when] it was the Morena deputies who took the money for the revocation of mandate from the INE.”
Democratic Revolution Party politician Ángel Ávila accused Morena of wanting to hold a “sham” referendum whose result is preordained, as he claimed occurred with the airport consultation.
“We all remember that … the same people were able to vote once or 20 times … and then there was a magical result [just] as the president wanted,” he said.
Ávila praised the INE for “not lending itself to these kinds of games – [the staging of] sham, simulated consultations so that the tenant of the National Palace can measure his ego and popularity.”