Elect, Select, Reflect

Article excerpt

Why Aren't We More Like Mexico?

As THIS IS WRITTEN, MEXICO HAS THREE PRESIDENTS--FOX, STILL IN OFFICE, AND two new ones. That is more than a Mexican joke; it suggests the ferocious battle taking place over the true result of Mexico s national election on July 2, 2006. Here in the United States, we also need to understand the blatantly hostile Establishment attitude toward one of the two presidential candidates: left-of-center populist Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD (Democratic Revolution Party).

Why, for example, did the Washington Post on July 30 accuse Lopez Obrador of "taking a lesson from Joseph Stalin" and launching an "anti-democracy campaign" by demanding a manual recount of the votes and urging his supporters to take to the streets in peaceful protests? The editors went on to write that it is "difficult to overstate the irresponsibility of [his] actions." A few days after the election, the New York Times declared that Lopez Obrador had "escalated his campaign to undo the official results."

But there were no "official" results. Under Mexican law, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is responsible for running the elections and counting the vote. Only Mexico's Federal Election Tribunal has the power to declare a winner and it has until September 6 to do so.

The IFE had reported that the vote count indicated right-winger Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) led by 0.58% (about 240,000 votes out of a total electorate of 41 million). Given that tiny margin, it was no surprise that center-leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador would have his lawyers file 900 pages of purported evidence of fraud with the Federal Electoral Tribunal, for it to consider before announcing the actual victor. The popular demand was for a recount of all ballots, poll by poll. Unfortunately, on August 5, the Tribunal declared it would not do a total recount, only a recount of 9.07% of the polls (12,000 disputed ballots). This was a serious blow to the popular challenge, and the next steps remained unclear.

Soon after the election, to support that demand thousands of Mexicans had filled the Zocalo, the capital's main plaza, and downtown streets, almost constantly chanting "Vote by vote, poll by poll!" and "Obrador! Presidente!"

On Sunday, July 30, two million Mexicans from all over the country were reportedly protesting in that same area. Lopez Obrador announced what we might call a gigantic sit-in: people simply stayed in the Zocalo, surviving in hastily constructed shelters with nonstop music, speeches, and children's entertainment.

That support reflected several realities. The first is the massive evidence of fraud at different levels. Ballots in almost one-third of Mexico were not counted in the presence of independent observers; at 2,366 polling places, only a PAN observer was present. Sealed ballot boxes were illegally opened, PRD votes were found stuffed in trashcans, and on it goes. Given the past history of electoral fraud, including cases in which the Tribunal had nullified elections because of complaints, people were ready to believe it had happened once again. Lopez Obrador could also evoke the memory of 1988, when a fraud-stained election was lost by progressive candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas to the old elite party then in power for 70-plus years. …