Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has asked the Senate for an unprecedented national vote on whether to investigate and possibly bring charges against his predecessors, alleging they allowed massive theft of public resources over decades.
Pitching a referendum next year, either in June or August, Lopez Obrador singled out the terms of five former presidents going back to 1988.
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He read out a long list of grievances during his regular morning news conference, blaming his predecessors for rampant corruption and spiralling cycles of violence and inequality that have convulsed the country.
The timing of the planned referendum, which must be approved by Congress, means the subject of corruption in previous governments would likely dominate the campaign ahead of midterm elections next year.
Critics of the move say Lopez Obrador is seeking to divert attention from his handling of contentious issues: the coronavirus pandemic, an ailing economy, which is seen slumping to levels not seen since the 1930s-era Great Depression, and record levels of gang violence.
The leftist president signed a formal request on Tuesday asking the Senate to trigger the vote on possible trials for his immediate five predecessors, all from the long-ruling centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) or the conservative National Action Party (PAN).
“Mexico experienced a period characterised by excessive concentration of wealth, monumental devastation to the treasury, privatisation of public goods, general corruption, foul electoral processes, and governing practices that led to uncontrolled growth of violence,” he said.
Lopez Obrador views the referendum as an indictment of corruption, conservative economic programmes and privatisations, not just what he claimed was “systematic corruption” since 1988.
“The social and humanitarian disasters we have suffered in this country over the last 30 years were the result of a series of conscious acts by those who governed during this period,” Lopez Obrador said. “The evils I have enumerated did not occur by chance, but rather were the result of the application of a model over five presidential terms … this tragic stage in the life of the country is called the neoliberal era.”
Acts of corruption can be punished under current law, but it is unclear whether Lopez Obrador can investigate former leaders for policy decisions he disagrees with, like the widespread privatisations of government companies carried out by Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who governed Mexico from 1988 to 1994.
A parallel effort to collect voter signatures, largely organised by activists from Lopez Obrador’s Morena party, could also legally trigger the vote if the threshold of some 1.8 million citizens is met by a deadline later on Tuesday.
Elected in a landslide on an anti-corruption platform in 2018, Lopez Obrador has repeatedly said he would personally vote against allowing trials of the former presidents, but says it is important to let citizens decide for themselves.
Lopez Obrador’s two immediate predecessors, Enrique Pena Nieto and Felipe Calderon, have denied wrongdoing. The other former presidents – Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo and Vicente Fox – have not yet spoken out on the referendum push.