MEXICO CITY (AP) — Fewer than two of every 10 eligible Mexican voters bothered to cast ballots Sunday on whether their popular president should end his six-year term barely midway through or continue to the end, according to the National Electoral Institute’s initial statistical estimate.
Participation in the referendum was estimated to be between 17 percent and 18 percent of eligible voters, less than half the participation required for the result to be binding.
Early returns, as expected, showed an overwhelming tendency toward having President Andrés Manuel López Obrador finish out his term, with nearly all ballots backing the leader.
Lorenzo Córdova, president of the National Electoral Institute, stressed that it was a statistical estimate based on a sampling of ballots, but with 95 percent reliability. He said the estimate indicated that better than 90 percent of those who did vote were in favor of López Obrador remaining in office.
It was López Obrador who pushed for the first-ever referendum of its kind in Mexico.
It was considered a safe bet. The referendum is only binding if at least 40 percent of the country’s electorate votes —something experts believed unlikely— and López Obrador has maintained approval ratings around 60 percent.
With that in mind, critics decried the exercise as a waste of money —almost $80 million— and just a way for López Obrador to rally his base midway through his time in office. For someone known as an eternal campaigner, the expected reaffirmation of support makes sense, but for a president outspoken about austerity it raised questions.
López Obrador voted early Sunday in downtown Mexico City, urging others to vote.
“There always has to be democracy in the family, in school, in work, in the unions, of course in public life, and you have to participate,” the President said.
Some in the opposition had called for voters to boycott. López Obrador’s Morena party was active in encouraging the President’s base to vote. The President has faced criticism that government officials and resources have promoted the referendum.
How many voters would turn out was the overriding question.
Patricio Morales, an analyst at Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, said the lack of awareness about the referendum and potential disinterest among voters could weigh on turnout.
He noted that only seven percent of voters participated in another referendum last year asking whether former presidents should be prosecuted.
The referendum fueled a feud between López Obrador and Mexico’s respected elections authority. Lawmakers from his party cut the National Electoral Institute’s budget and the institute said it didn’t have the money to pull off the referendum originally estimated to cost more than $191 million. It refused to move ahead until the Supreme Court ruled that it must. Adjustments lowered expected the cost to $78.2 million.