EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – When he was running for president of Mexico in 2018, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador promised to hold previous presidents accountable for acts of corruption.
Now he’s asking Mexicans to go to the polls on Sunday and take part in a national referendum to begin the process. The problem, observers and some Juarez politicians say, is the question on the ballot is so vague and publicity of the election close to null that it’ll be impossible to reach the required 40% voter participation threshold.
“It’s good to find out how the citizens feel about things. But in this case, it’s a complete farce on the part of the president. You don’t ask people if they want justice, you just apply the law,” said Joob Quintin, president of the conservative National Action Party, or PAN, in Juarez.
A wave of public frustration against government corruption and rising crime helped Lopez Obrador reach the presidency. But violent crime has gotten worse and critics accuse the president of mismanaging the COVID-19 crisis by attending public events and hugging children when health authorities all over the world were urging social distancing and wearing masks. Lopez Obrador is also taking heat for pushing multibillion-dollar projects such as the Maya Train in the Yucatan peninsula and a new publicly funded airport for Mexico City.
“This (election) is a smokescreen to cover up his mismanagement of the pandemic and throwing away money on unnecessary projects like the train and the airport. He wants to distract public attention so he is not held accountable,” said Juarez City Councilor Enrique Torres.
The Juarez official said the National Elections Institute will spend $26 million staging an election that will go nowhere. “I seriously doubt many people will go vote. Most of us who aren’t part of his political party have no intention of participating in this sham,” Torres said.
Quintin of the PAN said only 39% of the electorate in Juarez voted in the July 6 mayoral and state election.
But Lopez Obrador supporters all over Mexico have been promoting the election on their social media pages. Posters of shackled and frowning former presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderon and Enrique Peña Nieto are flooding the internet.
Angel Echeverria, a member of the Morena Party Youth Movement, said the referendum will be a statement against the culture of corruption fostered by previous Mexican leaders.
“We have an opportunity to bring them to justice for all the money they stole and for all the people who are no longer with us,” he said, referring to victims of crime, including those murdered by police officers working for the drug cartels.
Political scientist Tony Payan concurs with critics who say people will ignore the election, for the most part.
“This is nothing but red meat for his political base. Most Mexicans aren’t interested, they’re not going to participate in it, much less now that COVID-19 numbers are climbing back,” said Payan, director of the Center for the United States and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. “Political parties are staying on the sidelines, there are no candidates, and the question is vague and unmotivating. I suspect only the most rabid supporters of the president or his agenda will show up.”
The question on the National Electoral Institute website states: “Are you in favor to take the pertinent actions, in line with legal and constitutional lines, to begin a process to clarify the political decisions taken in years past by political actors so as to guarantee justice and the rights of possible victims?”
The institute plans to set up some 50,000 public polling places throughout Mexico on Sunday.