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Mexico’s Referendum on Trying Ex-presidents Falls Short

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Mexico’s Referendum on Trying Ex-presidents Falls Short

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MEXICO CITY (AP) – A referendum in Mexico on Sunday cost the country about $25 million, but drew only a fraction of the voters needed to make it binding.

Few people liked the poorly written question on the ballot, and the vote was held in a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The nationwide referendum asked whether ex-officials should be tried for any illegal acts. The National Electoral Institute reported that while over 90 percent of those who participated voted “yes,” only about 7 percent of eligible voters turned out, well below the 40 percent threshold needed.

Critics noted that Mexico has no formal amnesty for former leaders, and there is nothing in current law saying they cannot be brought to justice. As opponents say in a slogan, “The law must be applied, not put up for a vote.”

Turnout at some Mexico City polling places appeared light Sunday.

Jose Francisco Espinosa Cortes, 60, who drives a taxi and runs a computer repair business, was one of only about 60 people to have voted by midmorning at a polling station in the middle-class San Rafael neighborhood.

“A lot of people have fallen for the propaganda of ‘why go out and vote, nothing is going to change,” said Espinosa Cortes. “But if we don’t end impunity, we’ll never end corruption,” he said calling the referendum “a historic chance for Mexico to get justice.”

“There should be a line of people out to here,” he said, gesturing to the empty sidewalk in front of the polling place.

Photographer Santiago Ruisenor, 43, preferred to take his daughter to a Mexico City park to play Sunday rather then vote. “This is a farce,” Mr. Ruisenor said. “This is pure cynicism, an act that is only being used to increase the president’s popularity.”

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who pushed for the referendum, needed 40 percent of registered voters to cast ballots—about 37 million people—for the referendum to be binding.

“The people want participative democracy, not just representative democracy,” Mr. Lopez Obrador 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.”

Mr. Lopez Obrador is seeking the blessing of the public to change course and go after ex-presidents, two of whom—Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) and Vicente Fox (2000 to 2006)—have been among his harshest critics.

In all, Mexico has six living ex-presidents, the oldest of whom is 99. The statute of limitations has expired on many of the abuses they are accused of committing, most involving massive corruption, kickbacks, wasting government money and criminal economic mismanagement.

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