Mexico’s president claimed victory on Monday in a polarising recall referendum with low turnout that was boycotted by much of the opposition.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador won almost 92 per cent of the vote, according to electoral body INE, with 99 per cent of votes counted. Voter turnout for the ballot, which asked whether López Obrador should see out the remainder of his six-year term, reached just 18 per cent.
That is well short of the 40 per cent needed for the result to be binding, but López Obrador said Monday he was happy with the result and would seek to lower the minimum turnout in the future.
“It was a complete success,” he said in his morning news conference. “For a long time, centuries, it was thought that politics was for politicians and that the people didn’t exist. Now we’re in a new era.”
The nationalist leader, who enjoys approval ratings of about 60 per cent and won a landslide election in 2018, introduced the recall vote against himself.
In the first half of his term, López Obrador implemented sharp budget cuts and expanded social programmes for the elderly and young jobseekers. He also focused public investment on a handful of emblematic projects, including an oil refinery, a 1,400km tourist train ride and a new airport for the capital.
Mexico’s economic recovery has been sluggish, with investment held back by policy uncertainty and a near-record homicide rate. López Obrador has also clashed with the US over energy reform designed to favour the state electricity company, with a vote set for this week.
But critics and the opposition said the ballot was an $80mn farce designed to boost the president’s popularity. They fear that López Obrador wants to remain in power beyond Mexico’s one-term limit and that he is trying to undermine INE.
López Obrador — who has denied that he is seeking re-election — has called INE, a cornerstone of Mexico’s relatively young democracy, antidemocratic and accused it of acting illegally. He recently said he would push a reform to have INE’s board members directly elected.
On Monday he said Sunday’s result came despite “cheating and boycotts” from INE.
Many voters, however, remain loyal to the president, whom they see as a rare, incorruptible politician who spends time in small towns meeting regular people.
Mercedes Santamaría, from the president’s home state of Tabasco, said three years was not long enough to end corruption and impunity and that conditions were improving under López Obrador.
“I’m very happy that he redirected money that was previously for bureaucrats to line their pockets . . . while the people were dying of hunger,” the 65-year-old said outside a polling station.