Mexicans have begun voting in a referendum promoted by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on whether to investigate former presidents for alleged corruption, but experts have criticised the vote as a political stunt.
Lopez Obrador, widely known as AMLO, has cast past administrations as deeply corrupt and made combatting the practice his top priority.
But critics have said the Mexican president hopes to use the consultation to energise his base, and that it is unlikely to muster enough votes to be valid. To be binding, 37.4 million people – 40 percent of the electoral roll – must participate.
Polls opened at 8am local time (13:00 GMT) on Sunday and were due to close at 6pm (23:00 GMT), with the result expected to be known within two or three days.
While the “yes” vote could win up to 90 percent, it will be difficult to achieve even 30 percent turnout, said Roy Campos, director of the polling company Mitofsky.
“The consultation has become ideological,” Campos told the Reuters news agency. “The president’s supporters are the ones who want to go and vote, and vote yes.”
That was echoed by Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst at Mexico’s Center for Economic Research and Training, who called the referendum “strictly an exercise in politics and media exposure” and noted that the outcome of the ballot question is not in doubt.
“The question isn’t whether the ‘yes’ option will win, we know that 90 percent or more will vote yes,” said Crespo.
“The question is, how many people will go out to vote? A lot of us don’t want to be used in a manipulation. It will be an indicator of how many people still support Lopez Obrador, of how much capacity he has to mobilise people.”
According to a recent survey by the newspaper El Financiero, 77 percent of respondents said they would back the proposal to investigate former leaders, but only 31 percent of people said they would vote.
Rosario Gomez was among those who planned to vote at one of 57,000 ballot boxes set up by the electoral institute, compared with more than 160,000 for June’s legislative and local elections.
“It’s about time these thieves pay!” the 52-year-old market vendor said.
Lopez Obrador has blamed the former leaders Carlos Salinas, Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderon and Enrique Pena Nieto, whose administrations spanned 1988 to 2018, for aggravating many of Mexico’s woes, from poverty to insecurity.
“The people want participative democracy, not just representative democracy,” he said last week. “You have to have faith in the people, you have to have confidence in the people and their free choice, not be afraid of the people.”
The president originally wanted the referendum to ask voters if they wanted the ex-presidents to be prosecuted, but the Supreme Court ordered a looser formulation to protect due process and the presumption of innocence.
The question reads: “Do you agree or not that the pertinent actions be carried out, in accordance with the constitutional and legal framework, to undertake a process of clarification of the political decisions made in the past years by the political actors, aimed at guaranteeing justice and the rights of potential victims?”
Lopez Obrador’s administration has not detailed what that process would entail.
The statute of limitations has expired for some charges that the ex-presidents could potentially face, and the referendum could lead to the creation of a truth commission rather than legal action, Campos said.
But former presidents can be tried like any other citizen and critics argue that the referendum is unnecessary. “Waiting for the results of a consultation is making justice a political circus,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas’ director of Human Rights Watch.
Other opponents have said in a slogan: “The law must be applied, not put up for a vote.”
Fox, who was president from 2000 to 2006 and is a vocal critic of Lopez Obrador, has urged Mexicans to stay home. “Let’s not indulge in this farce,” he wrote on Twitter.
Mexico is ranked 124th out of 179 on Transparency International’s world Corruption Perceptions Index.