By RICARDO CASTILLO
Why exactly did Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) sign a document on Tuesday, March 19, swearing not to seek reelection as president?
That question has many answers, but it is extremely odd — this year being 2019, more than five and a half full years before the next presidential term — that any sitting president in his right mind could be thinking about being reelected, particularly at age 67. Plus, the fact is that reelection has been officially banned in Mexico for nearly 110 years. The last known president to get himself reelected was Porfirio Díaz, who ruled the nation from 1877 to 1911.
In fact, it was Díaz’s refusal to leave power and to continue to be reelected that brought the gory 1910 Mexican Revolution, led by Francisco I. Madero, who ran on the “effective suffrage, no reelection” motto. Madero defeated Díaz, but still Díaz refused to step down until he saw the size of the public uprising against his rule. In the end, seeing the writing on the wall, Díaz finally stepped down, but he left his vice president, León de la Barra, in his place, which only continued the Mexican Revolution for more time. Finally, Madero – the true victor of the 1910 election — was “allowed” to take over as president, only to be toppled a year later in a bloody coup backed by then-U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Henry Lane Wilson. Madero ruled from Nov. 6, 1911, through Feb. 19, 1913. His defense minister, Victoriano Huerta, led the coup and ordered Madero and Vice President José María Pino Suárez executed on Feb. 22, 1913.
The death of Madero only made things worse in Mexico, as several state governors who wanted democracy rose up in arms under the leadership of Coahuila Governor Venustiano Carranza. This led to a bloodier continuity of the already-very-bloody Mexican Revolution, until Huerta was deposed and, finally by 1917, Carranza led the nation into a new draft of the Mexican Constitution, signed on Feb. 5, 1917. Once again, the motto of the new Constitution was “effective suffrage, no reelection.”
And, yes, even after all that, there was one president who sought reelection and almost got it. That was Álvaro Obregón, who ruled by appointment (following several coups since Obregón was a revolution hero), which landed him in power from 1920 to 1924. For this term, he was never elected. But he had a dream of being a “constitutionally elected” president. He ran and won the 1928 election, but was murdered in August 1928, a few months before being sworn in.
What ensued was three presidents, each with six-year terms, from 1928 through 1934, under the behind-the-scenes command of former President Plutarco Elías Calles, who had won and ruled during the 1924-1928 period.
But with the advent of General Cárdenas as president for the 1934-1940 period, Mexico entered into a period of political stability that endures to this day. Since Cárdenas, no president has tried to reelect himself (although – we know — some considered going after reelection but never got to it).
So, the question again is why did AMLO go ahead and sign this document, which historically seems totally irrelevant?
The answer lies in a recently approved piece of Mexican legislation that authorizes the National Electoral Institute (INE) to include the name of López Obrador – whose term is now slated to end on Sept. 30, 2024 — as part of the electoral process for a “referendum“ in which voters will decide for or against AMLO’S continuity in power.
In AMLO’s view, this would give Mexicans the right to remove him if they are unhappy with his governance. A vote count, AMLO thought, would also give him a true view of how the Mexican people will feel about him at the midterm of his tenure.
“The people have at all moments the right to change their form of government,” he said. “That is to say, the people put (their leaders) in place and the people can take (those leaders) away.”
But AMLO’s political opponents have suggested that if he manages to include his name in the 2021 midterm elections, it is with the express intent of repeating his campaign in 2024, this time running for a second term as president.
Article 83 of the Mexican Constitution states that a president or a pro tempore “at no moment and for no motive can have that post again.” That’s clear to AMLO.
Yet an opposition group at the Chamber of Deputies interpreted AMLO’s “revocation” of the presidential mandate as “a cover up” of his plan to perpetuate himself in power and have his name appear in the 2021 ballots to enhance his National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party’s candidates.
Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Minority Deputy Dulce María Sauri said “it’s clearly an attempt to gain again political control of the Chamber of Deputies and prepare the populace environment for a move that might lead to the possibility of a consecutive reelection for the presidency of the republic.”
Business leaders belonging to different entrepreneurial organizations pointed out that the inclusion of AMLO’s name in the 2021 election “implies reelection.”
Gustavo de Hoyos, president of the Mexican Employers’ Confederation (Coparmex) said: “It’s a suspect initiative to exert influence over the 2021 electoral process and eventually transit toward an attempt at a presidential reelection.”
This forced AMLO – who says he never considered reelection since his hero is still the “Father of Mexican Democracy,” Francisco I. Madero” – to sign the document, putting to rest, once and for all, any suspicion that he would eventually seek reelection.
“My political adversaries, the conservatives who think I am like they are, because their true doctrine is hypocrisy, vociferate that the proposal of making myself subject to a revocation of mandate (is intended to) cover up my intention of getting reelected in 2024,” AMLO said bluntly. “This is a lie.”
So on Tuesday, March 19, AMLO signed the document, promising that as soon as his mandate is finished, he would retire to his small farm near the Maya Palenque ruins in the state of Chiapas.
With this final statement, AMLO made his case that he had no ulterior motives to get reelected, igniting a giggle from his audience, since the name of his farm is “La Chingada”, which literally means “far, far away.”