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Mexicans will vote on whether their president should be removed from office

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A recall election is usually launched by someone who wants to get a person out of office. But in this case, in Mexico, the recall election was the president's own idea. On Sunday, Mexicans decide the fate of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Eighteen-year-old Andrea Cabrera (ph) and her mom are enjoying an ice cream on this recent day in a working-class neighborhood near Mexico City's airport. Above their head is a huge banner in support of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

ANDREA CABRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I'm his fan 100%," says Cabrera. Her pink T-shirt sports a cartoon likeness of Lopez Obrador with gray hair and a bucktoothed smile. She's voting Sunday for him to finish out his term till 2024.

CABRERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The president has given a lot of support to both me and my mom," she says. She gets financial aid for high school. Her mother, Fabiola Rivera (ph), receives a small stipend for single mothers.

FABIOLA RIVERA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "He has shown how he helps all Mexicans," she says. Lopez Obrador swept into office in 2018, pledging to put the poor first and crack down on Mexico's endemic corruption. He also said he would hold a recall vote. As he explained last December at a State of the Union address, such votes ensure the people are in charge...

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PRESIDENT ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: (Speaking Spanish).

(CHEERING)

KAHN: ...And can get rid of greedy, bad leaders, he said to thunderous applause. Polls show Mexicans want to keep him in power. Lopez Obrador is popular, and his opposition is weak. But Carlos Bravo Regidor, an analyst at the research center CIDE in Mexico City says inflation, the country's staggering violence and several political scandals have chipped away at the president's high marks.

CARLOS BRAVO REGIDOR: This is a way for him to say, I'm still strong; in spite of all, people support me.

KAHN: Critics charge that the recall is a waste of money. The president, usually known for his fiscal austerity, allocated $77 million for the vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

KAHN: Last Sunday, his opponents rallied in cities around the country, but turnout like this one in the capital was small. Shouting, finish and get out, ralliers like 62-year-old retiree Dalia Reyes (ph) says she won't participate in a farce.

DALIA REYES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "It's a trap, a way for him to feel glorious, like he's the emperor of Mexico," she says. In the recall, not only is a no vote needed to oust him, but it requires a 40% turnout to be binding. Neither is expected. Critics say the president is using this recall vote to build momentum in the second half of his term and to step up attacks on the federal elections institute, known as INE, which runs national elections. He's long maintained it stole a previous election from him. Luis Ugalde, a former director of INE, says Lopez Obrador is moving to strip Mexico's few functioning institutions of their independence.

LUIS UGALDE: Our very young democracy with a lot of deficiencies (ph) is going to collapse. That is what is at stake at this moment in Mexico.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in Spanish).

CLAUDIA SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Defying rules on campaigning by public officials, Mexico City's mayor addressed thousands Wednesday in support of Lopez Obrador.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHEINBAUM: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, star of the ruling party, riled up the city's supporters. She's the president's most likely pick to be his successor in 2024.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.