A national referendum under pressure from Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on whether or not to prosecute his predecessors for alleged corruption drew only a small fraction of voters to the polls on Sunday.
The turnout was just over seven percent — far from the 40 percent needed to have legal significance, the National Electoral Institute (INE) said based on an official quick count.
As expected, the “yes” vote for legal action was far ahead, estimated at 89-96 percent, compared to less than two percent for “no,” said INE chairman Lorenzo Cordova.
Lopez Obrador, a self-proclaimed anti-graft crusader, said the public consultation would strengthen participatory democracy, but critics saw it as little more than a political stunt.
“A consultation was not necessary to know that the people want corruption to be punished,” Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, told AFP.
“The prosecution will just do what the president says, because even if it is formally autonomous, we have seen in practice that it is not,” he added.
Rosario Gomez was among the minority determined to vote.
“It’s time these thieves pay!” said the 52-year-old market trader.
Montserrat Rosas, a 25-year-old official who voted in Mexico City, said that while the referendum itself would not bring former leaders to justice, it “brings hope that justice will be done”.
The INE deployed about 57,000 ballot boxes, compared to more than 160,000 for the June legislative and local elections, and conducted limited promotional activities due to a lack of resources.
That annoyed Lopez Obrador, who has repeatedly criticized the polling station, accusing it of sanctioning “fraud” in the past.
“It’s not true that the INE doesn’t want the consultation,” Cordova said.
Mexico ranks 124th out of 179 on Transparency International’s global corruption perception index.
But former presidents face trial just like any other citizen, and critics argued the referendum was unnecessary.
“Waiting for the results of a consultation turns the judiciary into a political circus,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, regional director of Human Rights Watch in New York.
Although the vote was the brainchild of Lopez Obrador, the 67-year-old ruled out voting himself because he didn’t want “corrupt and hypocritical conservatism” to accuse him of vindictiveness.
The referendum question proposed by Lopez Obrador named five predecessors: Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto, whose terms in office stretched from 1988 to 2018.
Lopez Obrador has accused them of presiding over “excessive concentration of wealth, monumental losses to the treasury, privatization of public property and widespread corruption,” sparking angry denials.
Ultimately, the Supreme Court changed the referendum question for a more ambiguous alternative.
“Even the lawyers don’t understand,” analyst Paula Sofia Vazquez told AFP.
The question was: “Do you agree or not that the relevant actions are being taken, in accordance with the constitutional and legal framework, to initiate a process of clarification of the political decisions taken in recent years by the political actors have been taken, aimed at guaranteeing justice and the rights of potential victims?”
Omar Garcia, a survivor of the disappearance and suspected murder of 43 students in 2014, allegedly by corrupt police and drug traffickers, said listening to the people was valid, even if it wasn’t binding.
“It encourages an end to impunity,” Garcia said.
But 59-year-old manager Monica Ortiz-Monasterio was among those who stayed out of the polls, saying it was “the last straw to ask whether crimes will be prosecuted or go unpunished.”