Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has handily won a controversial referendum he supported to determine whether he should step down or complete his six-year term.
Lopez Obrador won slightly more than 90 percent of the vote on Sunday, with turnout hovering at an estimated 18 percent of eligible voters, far below the 40 percent threshold needed for it to be legally binding.
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Opposition leaders had actively discouraged people from voting, with many condemning the poll as a propaganda exercise and a costly distraction from more pressing problems.
Both critics and supporters had viewed the victory as all-but a foregone conclusion, although the vote has raised suspicion it could open the door to extending presidential term limits, now limited to a single six-year period.
The 68-year-old president, who had been the architect of the country’s first-ever “recall referendum”, hailed the result as historic, but quickly sought to douse concerns he planned to use the result to pursue a constitutional reform allowing him to seek another term after his current term ends in 2024.
“I’m going to continue serving until the last day of my term. I’m not going to go past that because I’m a democrat and I’m not in favour of re-election,” he said in a video message.
Costing millions of dollars and heavily publicised in the capital, the referendum had asked Mexicans if Lopez Obrador’s mandate should be revoked “due to loss of trust”.
Alejandro Moreno of the PRI party, which ruled Mexico for seven decades until 2000, tweeted that Lopez Obrador’s ruling Morena party had turned the referendum into a “mockery” to “satisfy its own ego and continue deceiving Mexicans”.
However, the leader of Morena, Mario Delgado, said voters had recognised Lopez Obrador’s “dedication to the most needy and the enormous moral authority with which he governs”.
“Only an indomitable, unwavering democrat like him can subject himself to a recall process,” he added.
Since taking office in December 2018, Lopez Obrador has fallen short of campaign pledges to reduce violent crime and lift the economy, unsettling investors by trying to renegotiate contracts and tightening state control of natural resources.
But his successful rollout of welfare programmes and public image as a morally upright defender of the poor against a corrupt, wealthy elite has helped buoy his popularity.
He entered the referendum with a 60 percent approval rating.