Saturday, December 4

Popular consultation against former presidents: Trial of the past in Mexico: what is decided on Sunday and why

Officialist poster that invites you to vote in the popular consultation on August 1.
Officialist poster that invites you to vote in the popular consultation on August 1.MICHAEL BALAM / Cuartoscuro

On Sunday, Mexicans are called to vote in a plebiscite known as the “consultation to judge former presidents,” which is actually broader in scope as well as uncertain. From the ambiguity of the only question on the ballot to doubts about its execution, to the scant popular interest aroused by the matter, which adds uncertainty to the participation data. The president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has made the tagline “let’s ask the Mexicans” a kind of political mantra and a springboard for their battles. The referendum of August 1 has been played more in the field of confrontation between parties than in that of citizen deliberation. This, however, does not diminish the importance of the vote, the first one that is carried out according to the channels established by the Constitution after several informal consultations called during the six-year term and which will be binding if at least 40% of the voters go to the polls. . But what exactly happens on Sunday?

What is decided?

The first question of the consultation, sent to the Senate by the president in September of last year, had to be modified by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation because it included the names of the last five presidents -Carlos Salinas de Gortari (PRI), Ernesto Zedillo (PRI), Vicente Fox (PAN), Felipe Calderón (PAN) and Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) – and openly appealed to the actions of “the competent authorities” against him. The formula was incompatible with the Constitution and violated the separation of powers because the work of justice cannot be submitted to consultation.

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Mexican citizens, therefore, will face a much more diffuse dilemma, whose design is constitutional, according to the Court, but opens the door to a multitude of interpretations. This is the text of the question: “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 actors politicians, aimed at guaranteeing justice and the rights of possible victims? ”.

Why was this consultation called?

López Obrador’s declared purpose is eminently political and consists of legitimizing an offensive against “the ruling neoliberalism [que] it resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives ”. “Between December 1, 1988 and November 30, 2018, Mexico experienced a period characterized by the excessive concentration of wealth, monumental losses to the treasury, privatization of public goods, generalized corruption, flawed electoral processes and government practices that led to in an uncontrolled growth of violence, public insecurity, massive violation of human rights, impunity as a norm and the breach of the rule of law in vast areas of the national territory ”.

According to the explanatory statement presented by the president, this catalog of evils and crimes “were the consequence of the application, during five six-year terms, of an elitist, anti-democratic, anti-national and anti-popular political and economic model.” “The human, social and national disasters suffered by the country during those 30 years were the result of a sum of irrational voluntary acts on the part of those who governed it during that period,” he said. Hence, Sunday’s referendum has been widely interpreted as a kind of political revenge.

How does it affect you and what does the result of the consultation suppose?

The same question of the consultation alludes, without using this word, to a reparation of the “possible victims” of “the political decisions taken in the past years by the political actors”. What decisions? It is not clarified, just as nothing is detailed about the “pertinent actions” of justice or what exactly the formula “clarification process” means. The plebiscite cannot affect the independence of the judiciary, which, had it found or found in the future elements to prosecute the former governors, would have done so or will do so regardless of the opinion of López Obrador, the government of the day, the opposition and even the popular will. This is how a democracy works.

So what is this referendum for? As the president of the Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar, explained to EL PAÍS, the question is deliberately ambiguous and general because “a consultation of this type is not an appeal to judicial processes, but to a kind of truth commission, to non-legal instruments. jurisdictional issues that could generate a way out of conflicts and painful events for the country ”. “The judicial processes are not consulted, but the people can be consulted whether or not they want investigation or national healing procedures to be carried out. Of transitional justice, ”he added. A jurisdiction of these characteristics, the Special Justice for Peace (JEP), was recently established in Colombia by the agreements that ended the conflict with the FARC.

Why has the electoral process been tortuous?

The road to consultation has been tortuous and controversial, first of all, because what Mexicans are called upon to decide has a background of impeachment. The opposition rejects it and the application of the verdict is not at all clear. Since the implementation of a transitional justice system requires a broad public and social debate in Parliament and, of course, sufficient consensus.

The process has also faced logistical obstacles such as scarce resources. The National Electoral Institute (INE), the body in charge of organizing the vote, lamented the lack of additional allocations due to the referendum. However, its president counselor, Lorenzo Córdova, assured that it will be the first exercise of citizen participation, the largest and the best technically organized in the democratic history of Mexico.

Participation doubts: what to expect?

The electoral authority indicates that “the results will be binding for the federal Legislative and Executive powers when the INE indicates that the total participation in the Popular Consultation is at least 40% of the citizens registered in the nominal list of voters. ”. That is, around 37.5 million voters. In the midterm elections on June 6, 52.6% of Mexicans participated. In a consultation with this design, doubts are rife, even in the leadership of Morena, the party that supports the Government, about the quorum. Even Ricardo Monreal, the president’s point man in Congress, sees it as difficult.

Even so, López Obrador said on Tuesday that “we should not anticipate vespers because people can go out to exercise their rights.” “People want democracy and they want participatory democracy, not just representative democracy. It is not that every three years you will vote, every six years you will vote, no, it can be every year or twice a year, if there is participatory democracy, because the people are being consulted ”.

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