Apr 11, 2022 - World

Mexican president ramps up criticism of election body after recall referendum

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily morning press conference in Mexico City on April 11, 2022.

Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Photo: Claudio Cruz/AFP

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador intensified his calls for election reforms after his victory in a self-imposed recall referendum Sunday, the first of its kind in the country.

Driving the news: López Obrador won with more than 90% of the vote. But turn out was less than 17% — well below the 40% threshold needed for it to be binding.

  • López Obrador had said he would honor the result regardless of the turnout, even after accusing the independent electoral institute, INE, of undermining the election by having fewer poll sites than last year’s congressional election and not promoting it enough.
  • The opposition had called for a boycott of the vote, arguing it was unnecessary and costly — the final tab came in at about $80 million — and only sought to mobilize the president’s base.

Yes, but: Analysts say his criticism of the INE could become part of a bigger battle with long-lasting consequences.

  • They say he and his party, Morena, could use the recall’s low turnout and accusations about its organization to discredit, or even dismantle, the electoral institutions ahead of the next general election.
  • “Morena supporters do not trust any of Mexico’s democratic institutions, including the INE and the [electoral court] TEPJF,” Pamela K. Starr, director of the U.S.-Mexico Network at University of Southern California, told Axios Latino. “On the flip side, the opposition places all their hope for a post-Morena future in precisely these two institutions.”
  • This tension surrounding the electoral institute and whether each side will recognize its authority "is the dynamic that the recall process has laid bare, and which will shape events leading up to the 2024 election," Starr added.

Details: López Obrador said Monday he plans to introduce an electoral reform measure soon.

  • It would require the nation’s elections commissioners to be directly elected by voters instead of appointed by a technical committee.
  • The measure would need a two-thirds vote in congress.
  • Experts have said that would open the door for parties placing friends to a commission that’s supposed to be autonomous.
  • The president also said Monday he might also seek to lower the minimum threshold for an election to be binding from 40% to 20%.

The bottom line: The fate of López Obrador was never in question, given his approval rating has hovered around 60% in the past couple of years, but the president and supporters of the recall defended it as setting a mid-term precedent.

  • Still, reactions to the results could serve as ammunition to change up the INE before López Obrador's term is up.
  • Mexican presidents only get one six-year term, with no chance of reelection.

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