Mexicans on Sunday cast their votes in an unprecedented referendum on a recall of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, which he managed to survive easily.
The 68-year-old left-wing populist, who was elected in 2018 for a six-year term ending 2024, won more than 90 percent of the votes in the “recall referendum”, according to initial projections.
The referendum offered two options to the voters: "He should be deprived of his mandate due to a lack of confidence" or "He should remain in the office of President of the Republic".
The turnout was between 17 and 18.2 percent, which means that even if Lopez Obrador had lost the referendum, the result would not have been legally binding.
The incumbent president hailed the result as “historic”, saying he was 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 favor of re-election," he said in a video message, hinting that he was not looking for re-election in 2024.
Mario Delgado, leader of the ruling Morena Party said voters had recognized Lopez Obrador's "dedication to the neediest and the enormous moral authority with which he governs.
"Only an indomitable, unwavering democrat like him can subject himself to a recall process," he noted.
Lopez Obrador’s supporters said it was a way of increasing democratic accountability, allowing voters to remove the president due to a loss of confidence.
"Now we have the chance to change what's not right. There have been presidents who, after being elected by the people, ended up serving other interests," Benigno Gasca, a 57-year-old mathematician, and musician was quoted as saying by AFP.
Since taking office in December 2018, Lopez Obrador’s successful roll-out of welfare programs and success to establish himself as a defender of the poor against a corrupt, wealthy elite has helped buttress his popularity.
Many Mexicans regard the folksy Lopez Obrador as a welcome departure from previous leaders often seen as aloof from the broader population in a society that remains highly unequal.
"I want the president to continue in power," said one of them, Guillermina Gomez, after voting in the central state of Tlaxcala.
The 60-year-old homemaker said his welfare programs had allowed her grandchildren to enroll in high school, which her meager household income had kept out of the reach of her children.
"Thanks to him we've received benefits that no one else has given us."
The referendum asked Mexicans if Lopez Obrador's mandate should be revoked "due to loss of trust," or he should conclude his term as scheduled on Sept. 30, 2024.