The biggest promoter of Mexico’s presidential election? President

MEXICO CITY – Walking around Mexico’s capital these days, it would be easy to assume that the country’s president is at imminent risk of losing his job.

City streets are littered with signs, flyers and billboards urging Mexicans to vote whether to remove President Andrés Manuel López Obrador from office in a recall election on Sunday.

Only the opposition is not asking people to participate in the elections. He is loyal to the President.

“Support President López Obrador,” reads one flyer. “If you don’t participate, corrupt people will take away the scholarships, aid and pensions that we get today.”

For the better part of a century, Mexican presidents have served six-year terms without fail, whether or not they were fairly elected – or despised by the majority of the population. The recall election, proposed by López Obrador and the first of its kind in Mexico, has the potential to elevate the country’s political system by giving citizens a powerful new opportunity to hold their leaders accountable.

On Sunday, voters will be asked to decide whether López Obrador “should rescind his mandate because of a loss of confidence,” or “remain in the presidency of the republic until his term ends.” go.” To become binding, 40% of voters must participate.

One wrinkle is that the vote’s most ardent promoter – and the most eager to test the president’s well-established popularity – has been the president himself. Opposition leaders have asked their followers to boycott the exercise, and analysts believe the turnout may be too low to count the result.

So, while López Obrador has called the recall “an exercise in a democracy of the highest order”, many fear it may turn out to be something less important: a marketing tool aimed primarily at bolstering the president’s claim to power. Is.

Carlos Bravo Rezidor, political analyst and critic of the administration, said, “It is supposed to be a mechanism for civilian control of power, but it has become an instrument of political propaganda.” The governing party, Bravo Rezidor, said, “It seeks to demonstrate force, muscle and ability to bring people to the streets and make clear their support for López Obrador.”

On Monday in Mexico City, volunteers at the president’s camp, armed with flyers and broad smiles in a residential neighborhood, enthusiastically advertised nearby polling stations and told anyone who would listen to vote in remembrance. Was.

Alan Pozos, one of the group’s leaders, said he hoped the practice would “set a precedent” so that future leaders could be singled out if needed. This time, though, he wants the president to know he’s loved.

“It’s to show Andrés Manuel that he has the strong support of the people,” Pozos said. “Andres often feels lonely, because he has to go against the whole system and doesn’t have the support.”

Such a show of support couldn’t have come at a better time for the president, who has passed the midpoint of his term while major campaigns are struggling to deliver on promises that would have propelled him into office in a resounding victory in 2018. took away. He vowed to “change”. Of the country that will remove poverty, boost the economy and root out endemic violence.

But after a pandemic and a global recession, poverty rates remain high, economic growth is weak and human killings are still hovering near record levels.

But López Obrador has remained very popular, with more than half of Mexicans approving of his performance, polls show. His government has called for improving the condition of the poor, raising the minimum wage four-fold and promoting welfare spending.

López Obrador has also won points with symbolic gestures, such as turning the Rashtrapati Bhavan into a museum open to the public, and flying commercial, even when visiting the United States.

His high favor with voters is also a tribute, supporters and critics agree, to his tireless transmission of an authoritative narrative in which he portrays himself as a lone warrior for the people, going up against a corrupt establishment. Huh.

Jorge Zepeda Patterson, a prominent Mexican columnist who supported the president, referred to López Obrador’s achievements during his tenure, saying, “The results have been below the expectations of the government.”

“Polarization is very profitable politically, especially if you don’t have consequences,” said Zepeda Patterson, “at least you can build the narrative you’re fighting.”

The main risk of recalling the president is the possibility that large parts of the country completely ignore the practice, especially when it occurs on Palm Sunday. By law, in order for the vote to be binding, at least 37 million Mexicans need to participate in it – significantly more than the number of people who voted for president in the 2018 election, which swept him into office in a landslide. .

But López Obrador has already identified a scapegoat in terms of low turnout: the country’s election watchdog.

For months, he has been attacking the National Electoral Institute for what he sees as a failure to devote sufficient resources to administering advertising and recall votes.

The President said in a recent press conference, “He should have promoted referendum from the very beginning, should not act dishonestly, should not be silent, should not promote vote so that people do not know about it.” Polling stations should be kept as far away as possible. , referring to the electoral institution. “They are openly against us, against me.”

The institute sought more funding from the federal government to oversee the competition, to no avail. With only about half the budget it said was needed, the watchdog set up about a third of the polling stations that would be held in a general election.

Electoral Institute leader Lorenzo Cordova, known by his Spanish acronym INE, said he was being set up to fail.

“It’s not just the president,” Cordova said, “there is a well-planned, systematic and well-designed campaign to discredit INE.” The point, he said, “is to harm the referee, and eventually pave the way for its political capture.”

The country’s Supreme Court has ruled that political parties cannot advertise the recall, and yet, López Obrador’s face has cropped up on signs across the country.

Cordova says the Electoral Institute has not determined who is paying for all the ads, but said there are at least twice that in states where the president’s party will run for governors in June. .

“It makes you suspect that there is political intentional there,” Cordova said, behind the marketing campaign.

There are, of course, strategic advantages that could lead the country to ask if they like the president at this particular moment. López Obrador founded his own political party and has a clear interest in doing everything possible to ensure his victory in the general elections to replace him in 2024.

The voting patterns in the recall will tell the president where his side’s weaknesses lie — and which potential candidates for president might drive people to the polls.

“It’s a kind of experiment, a rehearsal,” said Blanca Heredia, a professor at the Mexico City Research Institute, CIDE. “Looking at 2024, he can measure the ability of his operators to garner votes.”

Whatever happens on Sunday, for many in Mexico, it is difficult to see how the country’s first-ever presidential withdrawal will seriously damage this president.

“Andres Manuel has this thing where he wins even when he loses,” said Heredia. “They always have a way of turning defeat into victory.”

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