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Mexico’s Revocation of Presidential Mandate: A Democratic Experiment?
The Mexico Institute hosted a panel of experts to discuss Mexico's upcoming Revocation of Presidential Mandate referendum.
On April 10, Mexico held its first-ever revocation of presidential mandate referendum, allowing voters to recall or reiterate support for President López Obrador. According to the Law of Revocation of Presidential Mandate, proposed by the executive and passed by the MORENA-controlled congress in August 2021, a 40% voter turnout rate is necessary to make the results binding. The referendum is supposed to serve as a public vote of confidence in the president: the law does not stipulate a change for the president should he emerge victorious, but it requires that the president step down if a binding result does not favor him.
While this process in theory promotes civic participation and democratic accountability, many remain skeptical of its intentions, especially as Mexican democratic development has historically been cultivated within the opposition, not the ruling party. Given these precedents, the opposition has criticized the referendum as a political maneuver aimed at best to flaunt AMLO’s record-high presidential approval ratings and at worst to justify an unconstitutional extension of his tenure. As a result, many opposition voices have argued that to participate in the referendum is to legitimize and propagate a political charade. Some critics and scholars have also called into question the process’ legality, arguing that the Law of Revocation of Presidential Mandate is itself unconstitutional. Despite a significant cohort within the opposition calling for a boycott of this process, many civic leaders have also cast the plebiscite as an opportunity to rally against AMLO and hope for a binding and negative result – which would require strong opposition participation alongside minimal pro-AMLO participation given that a majority of Mexicans approve of his presidency, recent scandals notwithstanding.
Political tumult is on the horizon, regardless of the level of participation and results – these variables will simply determine the degree and type of instability that will ensue. Non-binding results will likely stoke more attacks against the National Electoral Institute, further eroding an important pillar of Mexico’s democracy. Binding results could bring far graver consequences: AMLO could instrumentalize favorable results to expand his power (or his term in office) or nullify unfavorable results, refusing to step down from power. To make sense of the process, its legality, and its potential outcomes, we convened experts from a diversity of backgrounds in Mexican politics.
- Senator Monreal underscored that the referendum process offers a platform to bolster a key democratic tenet: civic participation. However, Jorge Buendía shared cluster analyses of current polling data, past plebiscite history, and estimates based on the 2021 elections that suggest that only about a fifth of voters – mostly from AMLO’s base – will go to the polls on April 10.
- Luis Carlos Ugalde stated that recall elections generally serve as mechanisms for citizens to depose unpopular leaders, and while AMLO maintains strong approval rates, the revocation process seems to be more of a propaganda effort than an exercise to strengthen direct democracy. Solange Márquez discussed the various constitutional violations and irregularities of the recall election – including that Morena, and not regular citizens, triggered the process. Senator Monreal retorted that the Mexican Presidents’ intent is to institutionalize direct democracy processes, so they can serve as an additional check and balance in the Mexican political system.
- Ugalde urged that institutionalizing a recall election can destabilize the country and threaten the peaceful transfer of power. He stressed that presidential terms in Mexico last six years (sexenio) and that a recall election every four years could transform the traditional sexenio into a four-year term with a possible two-year extension, negatively affecting a president’s ability to govern.
The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute. Read more
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