Plaques showing the smiling picture of the President of Mexico hang outside many homes in his small rural town of the southeastern state of Tabasco.
Some who live in Tepetitán remember Andres Manuel Lopez playing baseball as an Obrador boy. Many of them danced in the streets when he became president in 2018.
In recent days, a large number of residents are ready to vote for him again.
“He lived in poverty just like us. He was raised in Rural areas, Said Artelio Morales Martinez, 56, the motorcycle taxi driver who parked Saturday outside Deftidon. His taxi displayed a poster calling on people to vote for Lopez O’Brien.
On Sunday, the Mexican people decided whether to oust their president two years earlier – an extraordinary re-election that was not only the first in the country’s history, but pushed by the president himself. The referendum was approved by the 2019 constitutional reform led by Lopez Obrador, who described the vote as an exercise in strengthening Mexico’s democracy.
“People should not forget that people are responsible,” he told the crowd after voting at a polling station in Mexico City.
Late on Sunday, election officials said about 90% of those who went to the polls voted for the president, but the overall turnout reached only 17% to 18% of the more than 92 million voters. This was much less than the 40% required to bind the results.
Lopez Obrador, who became president after promising a radical change against corruption and inequality, was not expected to fail. Polls show that about 60% of Mexicans accept his job as president.
Opposition leaders called for a halt to the protests, calling for a cease-fire in protest of the new constitution. They pointed out how billboards and taxis across Mexico bear the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, which promotes more time for the president, who is commonly referred to as his initials AMLO.
The National Electoral Commission, an independent body that organizes the withdrawal, has ordered politicians from the president’s party to remove tweets that are considered illegal government propaganda during the election.
“I will not openly participate,” Gina Andrea Cruz Blackledge, the federal senator representing Baja California from the PAN opposition, said in an interview before the vote, calling the withdrawal “a threat to democracy.”
“We’m not going to vote !!” Former Mexican President Vicente Fox wrote on Twitter.
“The purpose of this referendum is to show that Lopez Obrador is showing muscle and that he continues to be a very popular president,” said Benito Nacif, a political scientist at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City. “He will pursue the new mandate from the electorate.”
Lopez Obrador, a left-wing populist, has vowed not to cater to the privileged class and has expanded social welfare programs for the elderly, the disabled and agricultural workers.
Drawing on nationalist rhetoric, he focused on creating major infrastructure projects, including an airport outside of Mexico City, which he unveiled last month after removing a glowing airport started by his predecessor. A tourist train on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Tas Bogas Oil Refinery in Tabasco, among others, are part of an effort to curb Mexico’s reliability on gas imports.
His critics say he underestimated the violence of criminal networks in various parts of Mexico as a national security issue and did not do enough to kill women and journalists. At least eight journalists have been killed this year. After the European Parliament passed a resolution last month calling on Lopez Obrador to protect journalists, he responded by saying, “We are no longer a colony of anyone.”
“The president has appealed for sovereignty and nationalism, two cards of public opinion,” said Alejandro Moreno Alvarez, a political scientist at Mexico’s Autonomous Technology Institute in Mexico City.
According to Ana Maria Hernandez, director of investigations at the Mytofsky Polling Station, her approval rating, which was 67% in the first few months of her tenure, fluctuated in the 20s, 50s and mid-60s. It recently clashed with the publication of an article reporting that one of the president’s sons was living in luxury, contrary to the president’s harsh image.
In the Anahuac district of Mexico City, two neighbors who were sitting in the park last week discussed the memorial with interest. Guadalupe Ortiz, 67, said he “wholeheartedly loves Lopez Obrador” and accused 42-year-old Jorge Armando Solis of diverting attention from how criminal networks control parts of the country.
“I’m not going to vote, I’m not going to fall for a joke,” he told her.
Opposition groups called for the beleagured PM to resign.
The signatures of at least 3% or 2.7 million of eligible voters are needed to move the re-election forward. Pro-Lopez Obrador civil society groups such as Que Siga La Democracia or “Let Democracy Continue” worked tirelessly to raise that amount last fall, with about 20,000 volunteers from across the country collecting signatures, according to its leader Gabriela Jiménez Godoy.
Gerard Travers, 35, who focuses on environmental education at the National Institution for National Political Organization, knocked on the doors of his neighborhood in Morelia, the state capital of Mykolaiv. Vote and ride to the polls.
“[We] Try to fight against fake news, this exercise is a waste of money, ”he said. “I see this as a civic duty because we are getting an opportunity that is not historic.”
In Tabasco, the president’s home state of more than 2 million people, more than half of the population lives in poverty, and many say they feel the effects of the president’s work.
Mario Rafael Llergo, a member of Tabasco’s Federal Congress, said the Tas Bogas refinery in the coastal city of Barisal had created thousands of jobs. Brandeis Lopez, a member of the Government Council for Paradise, said he could see the cranes of the construction project from his home, adding that the refinery was bringing national pride to Mexico.
“This is no longer a land of victories,” he echoed the president.
Others who voted on Sunday are longtime followers of Lopez Obrador.
Carlos Benito Laura was a university student in the 1990s who spent several weeks marching from Tabasco to Mexico City with Lopez Obrador and agricultural workers. Laura said Lopez Obrador would tell passers-by that he was fighting for marginalized people who were not represented in politics.
“I felt like a social justice fighter,” he said, recalling what Lopez Obrador had told him at the time that “true left-wing ideology is to help others.”
In Teptitan, a community of two thousand people, chickens often roam freely and fishermen park their boats on the river that runs through the city, residents say the president has not forgotten them.
During his tenure, the federal government has remodeled the city’s homes and built new homes for families in need. Some say they have benefited from a federal afforestation program that pays farmers to plant trees.
Carlos Lopez Boss runs a farm outside of Tibetan, where he grew up with Lopez Obrador and later studied at a university in Mexico City. He had been telling people for a whole week to vote for the president.
“We are now looking at the other side of the coin,” he said. “Money reaches people, and it doesn’t just stay with a few.”
Petrona Occegueda Cruz, 72, moved into a new house in Tepetitán a month and a half ago, which he said was built by the federal government. The board supporting the president hangs on the front door above the still-lit concrete pieces in the hallway of the house.
“I have never received support from anyone before,” Occegueda said, adding that in 2020 the president visited the flood-ravaged city.
Occegueda said he was grateful for the Lopez Obrador’s promotion, which he used to pay for pensions, food, electricity and medicine.
“He is an honest man and a native of our town,” he said. “I’m happy he’s going to win again.”
Cecilia Sanchez, a special correspondent in Mexico City, contributed to the report.