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What if? Presidential succession and the consulta

11 April 2022

Today’s “consulta”… the ballot issue being, first, should AMLO stay in office, and, secondly, if more than 50% of the voters say he should leave, is he obligated to do so… is — like all Mexican elections — only mandatory in theory. In practice, there is no fine or penalty for not voting, or for purposely nullifying one’s vote.

The statistical liklihood of AMLO being voted out are nil. As of 11:30 PM (4-10-2022) with about 10% of the vote counted, about 90% of voters are saying “stay”… although the second question, of whether a president should be obligated to step down if they lose a “consulta” is also passing at about the same lopsided percentage.

Still… given that this is more a “test run” for a new wrinkle in the already complicated Mexican political system, it raises some questions. Leaving aside whether regular citizen’s consultations on an administration half way through the six year term is a good, or bad, idea (I’ll get back to that), what happens if the President needs to be replaced?

It’s happened twice. Once really. When Alvaró Obregon was assassinated a few weeks before the start of his term, there was time for… as the Constitution mandates, for the Chamber of Deputies to sit as an Electoral College and pick a President to serve a short term until the next general election two years later. The cautious Emilio Portes Gil served out his eventful term (finishing negotiations to end the Cristero War, and dealing with the Wall Street collapse of 1929) and retired unscathed. For what was supposed to be a 1930-34 term, thanks to an (un) healthy assist from former president (and… man behind the scenes) Plutarco Elias Calles, Pascal Ortiz Rubio was elected.

Ortiz Rubio didn’t quite jump high enough when Calles’ said “jump”, so in 1932, read in the newspapers that he was resigning, “for health reasons”. Which might have been true, beyond the usual assumption that Calles’ and his gang was hazardous to his health. Poor Ortiz Rubio had been shot in the face the day of his inauguration (something covered up as much as possible... the would be assassin being a die-hard Cristero, at a time when Church and State had worked out an unsteady compromise to end the violence of the late 1920s) and probably had what we call today PTSD. Calles convinced the “Electoral College to appoint a yes-man (Abalardo Rodriguez) to finish out what should have been a normal term.

None of which provides too much guidance, other than having the Deputies elect a substitute President, for what would happen in the unlikely event that AMLO were to lose this “consulta”, or… in the still perhaps unlikely event that there will be enough voters in this “consulta” for it even to count and set a precedent: At least 40% of the entire electorate has to cast a ballot for the consulta to even count. As of 11:30, based on votes counted, it was only about 11% of the electorate (but it’s still early).

So… what would happen? If the president were to step down (voluntarily or by law), the President of the Chamber of Deputies (equivalent to the US Speaker of the House) becomes the “Interim President” and needs to convene the Chamber within 30 days.

Here’s where things could get very, very weird. The consulta results might be challenged by a president who was “asked” to leave. Or file an injunction (amparo) to prevent the votes from being certified. In which case, the Elections Tribunal would have to hold a hearing, and issue a ruling. Supposedly within 60 days… so… if that were to happen, would the President stay on, or would the “Interim President” at least temporarily take over?

And… just to confuse things more, when the President of the Chamber becomes interim president, is he or she still the one who calls the Chamber into session? AND… this consulta being held a week before the Chamber and Senate go into recess, can a special session be called, or, does it have to wait for the new legislative session to begin in September?

IF the 40% turnout is reached for the first question, and the 50% turnout on the second… AND the results are certified by the Election Tribunal, even if… as no one expects won’t happen, AMLO is sent packing, it’ll be a mess.

Given that any one of those three probably won’t, beyond wondering WTF was all this for (and I’ll get to that in a minute), there will need to be changes made to the process, something it seems only PRI Deputy Dulce María Sauri has been considering. Even with giving the Elections Tribunal final say, and shortening their time to make a ruling, still a mess.

So… why? Most commentators — those not of the AMLO can do no wrong stripe, anyway — see this mostly as an ego trip, or of a way to drive home the point to the opposition that there is no mandate to oppose his programs. But, a regular mid-term referendum on the president’s performance has a few advantages. Candidates would have to keep in mind what it is the people expect, and show progress, or deliver results, within a much shorter time-frame. This might lead to hastily conceived projects, or splashy initiatives that fall apart with a few years (or even months) after completion, but then again… it would serve as a corrective for administrations that appear to be going off the rails, and the head of which has lost the confidence of his or her people.

And, anyway… (looking again at the early returns)… if present trends continue, it’s an issue to be considered later. But not too much later.

One Comment leave one →
  1. mexicomystic permalink
    11 April 2022 5:50 am

    Vox Populi Vox Dei ….

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