The Consultation: Everybody In

by Luis Hernández Navarro

However it may have happened, just over 15 million citizens voted against revoking the mandate of Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The figure is far from the slightly more than 37 million votes required for the exercise to be binding. But higher than that obtained by the PRI and PAN candidates in the 2018 presidential elections. The support for the President was not negligible.

The date of the citizens’ referendum influenced on its outcome. It coincided with Palm Sunday, which is celebrated with massive events in many parts of the country. In addition, as of the previous Thursday, children and young people went on Easter vacation. Thus, on April 10, hundreds of thousands of parents were resting away from home.

Curiously, there was only one special polling place installed for each electoral district; 300 in total. Those who were away from home were able to vote there. At each there were 2,000 ballots available. The figure contrasts with the 3 thousand enabled in 2018. A blunder by the National Electoral Institute (INE), which did not receive an adequate response from Morena.

The recall vote is not an election. The first was an unprecedented exercise of participatory democracy; the other is the central formula of representative democracy. In one, citizens participate centrally; in the second, except on election day, they delegate their future to political parties and rulers.

The percentage of abstention in the popular vote was much higher than in the federal electoral processes. In last year’s elections, the vote was 52.37 percent; on the other hand, this Sunday it was 17.60 percent, less than two out of every 10 registered citizens. However, these are processes of a different nature.

Those who promoted the recall presented 11 million signatures to petition for its realization. A quarter of citizens denied having given their support to the process.

The number achieved is more than double the 6 million 600 thousand votes obtained in the consultation on the trial of former presidents on August 1, 2021, with the same number of ballot boxes as on this occasion.

The turnout in the referendum was half of what it garnered in 2018, when AMLO was elected president. It was also below the almost 20 million votes obtained by the Together We Will Make History 1 coalition in the federal elections.

The right-wing opposition appealed not to participate in the popular referendum. Their abstention was more the result of their weakness than of their strength: they could not defeat the President. The final result had little to do with their appeals. Far from taking advantage of the situation to promote relevant political figures or an alternative program to the 4T, they bet everything on delegitimizing and wearing down the process by presenting it as an egocentric budgetary waste by the President. Beyond the fireworks, it does not seem to have been able to reap any relevant political capital.

Curiously, even more than the dispute between the right-wing opposition parties and the President, the main confrontation was between the President and INE. In the lawsuit, the institute appeared to be the coordinating nucleus of the offensive against the 4T, which, according to Obrador and his supporters, must be thoroughly reformed or, at least and/or, at the very least, remove the Councillors Lorenzo Cordova and Ciro Murayama. It is no exaggeration to say that, from beginning to end, Murayama behaved more like an opposition leader than a neutral citizen councillor.

In the polling attendance, both a genuine desire of many pro-Obrador voters to get involved, and a State operation, which violated basic rules of electoral fairness for which the left fought for many years, converged. The magnitude of the lawsuit could lead to a request by the partisan opposition to annul the process before the court, as part of its strategy of attrition.

In Chiapas some polling places (section 627 or 740) had more votes than people on the electoral roll. The results of voter turnout in the state are implausible. As Juvenal Campos reported, eight of the 10 highest voter turnouts are in that state: between 68 and 100 percent of the electoral roll (, a figure totally out of the national average.

The consultation will have little impact on the results of the June 5th gubernatorial elections in six states, the future of the electricity reform or a probable electoral reform. Neither the President nor the partisan opposition have significantly increased their power to make a coup in the current circumstances. As he already did, the President will argue that in the poll he obtained more votes than Ricardo Anaya (12 million 600 thousand votes) and José Antonio Meade (9 million 289 thousand) in 2018. His opponents will insist that he reduced his popular support by half, compared to when he was elected.

Moreover, the outcome of these events depends on correlations of forces other than the pulse for the repeal of his mandate. Most probably, Morena will triumph in four or five state elections; the constitutional change in electricity matters will follow its course depending on the negotiations between parties and de facto power groups; and, except for Morena, all political parties will refuse to endorse an electoral reform that reduces or eliminates plurinominal representatives2.

Although the institutional political actors say that they triumphed, in the recall referendum, as in the game of pirinola, the face with the inscription says: Everybody puts in3. Some may take more than others, but no one took all.

This piece was published in La Jornada on April 12, 2022. English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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  1. Juntos Haremos Historia is a Mexican Electoral coalition made up of the  Morena, Partido de Trabajo, and Partido Verde Ecologista de Mexico parties  for the 2021/2022 elections.
  2. Plurinominal candidates in the Mexican House of Deputies make up 200 of 500 seats in the chamber whose seats are filled based on proportional representation of their parties.
  3. The game of pirinola is played with a six-sided top, whose facess are inscribed with the commands for who and how much each player bets on her/his turn. The title of this piece refers to the command that everyone put their chips into the pot.
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