Mexicans vote on how they think AMLO’s government is doing
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico | Marco Ugarte/AP

AGUASCALIENTES, Aguascalientes, Mexico (August 1)—As he promised when he assumed office in late 2018, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) held an unprecedented national referendum today to allow Mexican voters the opportunity to weigh in on how they feel his Morena government is dealing with the problems of the country.

Elections are run by INE, the National Electoral Institute, which is government funded but politically independent. Therefore, as in the United States, it matters a great deal how the election will be managed from state to state. Results, to be formally confirmed on Wednesday, are expected to vary widely depending on how the referendum was conducted in that state.

Aguascalientes is controlled by PAN (Partido de Accion Nacional), which will make all the difference in how the returns will be counted and reported.

I have been here for almost a week and have seen virtually no posters on the streets of the city and have heard little on the news concerning the referendum. There’s been no visible or audible voter promotion. No voter information was sent to voters about when and where to vote. Only a day or two before the referendum date was a website and telephone number announced so that citizens could learn where to show up. The number of voting precincts were sharply reduced from the last elections for governors and federal and state officials.

Eric A. Gordon/PW

National news channels affiliated with the right wing continue to grant exaggerated coverage to crime stories as if to constantly remind viewers how ineffectual the AMLO administration has been, while censoring positive news about advances in other areas such as healthcare, education, the fight against corruption and labor abuse, and Mexico’s growing reputation around the world.

Conversations with friends, relatives and strangers, including the proverbial reporter’s taxi driver, indicated a widespread apathy about the referendum. It’s just politics as usual, many said, the same old corruption no matter who’s in power, and a referendum will change nothing.

To be sure, the absence of candidates and political parties from this single-issue ballot no doubt suppressed the enthusiasm for voting today, according to an INE official I interviewed off the record.

AMLO has made the rooting out of corruption the centerpiece of his presidency. Already the extravagant pensions and privileges of former presidents and high government officials have been eliminated or significantly reduced.

But now the midterm referendum has been framed as a measure to allow for criminal prosecution and effectively do away with legal impunity as the country’s parting gift to the highest officeholders.

On a visit out of the city earlier this week I did manage to spot a dramatic poster showing portraits of five past presidents in a lurid noir black and white format as one might see in a crime weekly of the 1940s. Across each one’s eyes a white band listed the most prominent assault, state robbery or scandal for which their administration is remembered. But this was a rare sighting. Overall there was little or no referendum publicity to be seen, and there was no great national debate about the issue.

An extremely low turnout was expected in Aguascalientes, though it needs to be emphasized that the picture might look very different in other states governed by Morena.

Final referendum results will be announced on Wednesday. Already some voters are skeptical about their authenticity. The ballot boxes in Aguascalientes looked unsecured against fraud and highly vulnerable to tampering.

Eric A. Gordon/PW

The complete text of the referendum reads (in this reporter’s translation) as follows: “Do you or do you not agree that the appropriate action should be taken, within a constitutional and legal framework, to initiate a process of bringing to light the political decisions made in past years by political actors, directed toward the guarantee of justice and rights for the possible victims? Yes or No?”

The referendum serves as a bellwether on the AMLO government even if it is not a recall election as such. Shall the nation pursue ever more democratic measures that Morena is promoting, and does the movement still enjoy the popular support it won in the historic 2018 election?


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon, People’s World Cultural Editor, wrote a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein and co-authored composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography. He has received numerous awards for his People's World writing from the International Labor Communications Association. He has translated all nine books of fiction by Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese, available from International Publishers NY.