Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sought to quash opposition claims that he is laying the groundwork for re-election, saying he was not a “vulgar, ambitious” politician and he would sign a commitment to leave office in 2024.
The lower house Chamber of Deputies on Thursday passed a bill designed to enshrine in the constitution Mr López Obrador’s campaign pledge to put his presidency to a recall referendum halfway through his six-year term. Opposition lawmakers said re-election was the next step.
Mexico has limited presidents to a single term for nearly a century; one of Mr López Obrador’s historical heroes, Francisco I. Madero, campaigned to overturn the 35-year dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz — triggering the Mexican revolution — under the slogan “universal suffrage, no re-election”.
“I heard some legislators saying it [the bill] was a dress-rehearsal for re-election,” the president told his morning news conference on Friday. The 65-year-old, who promises to transform Mexico, has consolidated power after winning a landslide victory but the opposition fears he is an authoritarian who will not want to relinquish office.
“On Monday, I am going to sign a commitment here that I will not seek re-election,” the president said. “I am a man of my word, what I most value in my life is my honesty but I will anyway make this public pledge.” Madero, who briefly served as president, was “one of the men I most admire”, he added.
Opposition deputies, with posters of Madero and his famous phrase, as well as banners saying “#Revocation is re-election” and other slogans, were unconvinced.
“They proposed the revocation of [the president’s] mandate in Venezuela and that opened the door to Hugo Chávez’s ambition to perpetuate himself in power,” said Marcos Aguilar Vega, a deputy from the conservative National Action Party (PAN) during Thursday’s 10-hour debate, calling the recall vote a “mockery of Mexicans”.
“The same thing happened with Evo Morales in Bolivia or with [Daniel] Ortega in Nicaragua. Today, from here, the PAN is warning of the risks,” he added.
Mr López Obrador’s opponents regularly say the leftist nationalist will turn Mexico into another Venezuela, where the economy is in ruins.
The bill was easily passed by Mr López Obrador’s Morena party and its allies by a margin of more than two to one. It is expected to move next week to the Senate, where Mr López Obrador cannot with existing allies muster a required two-thirds majority for constitutional changes, making for a tougher ride.
María Alemán, a deputy from the Institutional Revolutionary Party that ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century and was ejected last year, said “the next step is re-election”.
But Morena deputy Tatiana Clouthier called it “the right to call the federal executive to account” by a society “tired of abuses”.
The president initially promised a recall referendum every two years, but with his government launching an austerity drive, he later cut it to one vote after three years.
“I am not a vulgar, ambitious person, I am here to serve, for six years if the people want, and at the end of 2024 I will end my mandate,” Mr López Obrador said.