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Defiant Mexican president challenges critics to vote him out early

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Tuesday proposed bringing forward a referendum on his presidency to June 2021 from 2022, challenging his opponents to accept the offer and vote him out of office.

FILE PHOTO: Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador holds a news conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Romero/File Photo

Critics of the leftist president’s management of the economy, his security record and handling of the coronavirus pandemic have increasingly urged voters to use the self-imposed “recall vote” on his performance to get rid of him.

Lopez Obrador, who won election by a landslide in 2018, proposed the early vote on his six-year term, and initially wanted to hold it on the same day as mid-term legislative elections in June 2021.

Fearing he would use the vote to put himself at the center of the 2021 elections, the opposition balked at the idea and forced him to move it into the spring of 2022.

Now that Lopez Obrador’s popularity has fallen sharply, opponents have seized on the referendum as an opportunity.

Never shy of scrapping with critics, Lopez Obrador challenged them to put their grievances to the public by moving the vote to when he first proposed it.

“I’m offering them to bring forward the date. That we don’t wait until 2022 for the recall vote, that we take advantage of the (mid-term) elections by holding it the same day,” he said at a regular government news conference.

Lopez Obrador, 66, took office 16 months ago and his approval ratings were initially around 80% in some polls. But his popularity has tumbled, and a daily survey by pollster Consulta Mitofsky now puts his approval score at 46.5%.

A separate poll for newspaper El Financiero showed voter support for the president’s National Regeneration Movement party, never as popular as Lopez Obrador himself, had slipped to 18% in March from 33% in January.

That equalled combined backing for the two main opposition groups and former rulers, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and center-right National Action Party (PAN), which had 8% and 10% respectively.

Three out of five voters showed no preference for any party.

Mexico slipped into a mild recession last year, hit by a slump in investment precipitated in particular by concerns about Lopez Obrador’s readiness to allow business contracts signed under the previous government to be called into question or cancelled.

Despite his pledge to reduce record levels of drug cartel-fueled violence plaguing the country, homicides crept up to new highs under Lopez Obrador in 2019.

Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel, Sandra Maler and Tom Brown

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