Electoral crisis in Mexico

The results of the July 2 presidential elections in Mexico are still considered too close to call, but both candidates鈥攆ormer Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the populist-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and former energy minister Felipe Calderon of the technocratic-right National Action Party (PAN)鈥攁re claiming victory. The New York Times quoted Lopez Obrador saying he would repect the decision of the Federal Electoral Institute, while also insisting he had won by 500,000 votes. “This result is irreversible,” he said. Countered Calderon: “There is not the slightest doubt that we have won the election.”

Luis Ugalde, head of the Electoral Institute, appeared twice on national television to urge candidates and their supporters to wait for official results. President Vicente Fox also addressed the nation, pleading with voters to heed the commission’s decision. “It’s the responsibility of all political actors to respect the law,” he said. But Lopez Obrador told thousands of supporters in Mexico City’s central square: “We are going to demonstrate that we won and they have to respect our victory.”

The third candidate鈥攆ormer Tabasco state governor Roberto Madrazo of the Institional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the entrenched political machine that governed from 1929 to 2000鈥攊s trailing the two front-runners.

It has been a dirty campaign, with Lopez Obrador accusing Calderon of being part of a political elite that profits at the expense of the many. “There cannot be a rich government and a poor people,” Lopez Obrador said repeatedly in his campaign speeches, pledging to root out corruption and waste. Calderon has countered that Lopez Obrador’s programs would lead to more debt and an economic collapse, instead calling for neoliberal prescriptions: slashing corporate taxes, encouraging more foreign investment, and allowing private partnerships in the state oil company. “I want a winning Mexico,” he said.

Lopez Obrador in February attacked President Fox for using the bully pulpit of his office to campaign for Calderon, comparing the president to a twittering tropical bird called a “chachalaca” and telling him to “shut up.”

Calderon’s campaign, in turn, ran ads showing Venezuela’s populist President Hugo Chavez, insulting Fox side by side with Lopez Obrador’s diss. The Calderon campaign also called Lopez Obrador “intolerant” and “a danger to Mexico.” Business leaders also paid for spots that used Chavez’s image to scare voters, saying “Mexico doesn’t need a dictator to come out ahead.” Other spots said voting for Lopez Obrador was equivalent to voting for another economic crisis, like those of 1995 and 1982. Lopez Obrador skipped the first presidential debate in early April. Calderon, a Harvard-trained economist, subsequently shot ahead in the polls.

But Lopez Obrador struck back, calling his detractors “white-collar criminals” who who exploited their “privileges” by dodging taxes, and called the current government was “a committee at the service of a minority.” Seeking to reassure the business community, he also said: “We are not going to act irresponsibly. We’re not going to provoke a crisis.” (NYT, July 3)

Voting went ahead in Oaxaca, where striking teachers and their supporters had considered a boycott of the elections. On June 30, the fifth popular assembly (Asamblea Popular del Pueblo de Oaxaca, known as APPO) resolved that the effort to oust Gov. Ulises Ruiz Ortiz of the PRI took first priority. The striking teachers continue to hold Oaxaca City’s central plaza, having retaken after a violent police eviction two weeks ago. (Narco News, July 1)

However, in the Mexico state village of San Salvador Atenco, supporters of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land marched on election day to denounce all the political parties and candidates, and to demand the release of the “political prisoners” taken in a clash with police in the village in early May. (Notimex, July 2)

Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista rebels (known as “Delegate Zero” on his tour of the country known as the “Other Campaign”) also spoke at several rallies and events around the Mexico City area in the days leading up to the elections, witholding support from any candidate and pledging “we are going to continue to organize below and from the left,” regardless of the election’s outcome. (La Jornada, July 3)

“There is another space, another path, another way of doing politics,” he told a crowd in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Zocalo, on election day. (EFE, July 2)

All sources online at Chiapas95.

See our last posts on Mexico, and possible electoral violence.

  1. Tensions rise…
    From the New York Times, July 5:

    The Mexican electoral crisis deepened Tuesday, as the leftist candidate demanded a vote-by-vote recount and election officials acknowledged that up to three million votes had not been tallied in the preliminary results.

    The ballots counted so far showed the conservative, Felipe Calder贸n, with the narrowest of leads, fewer than 400,000 votes, over his leftist opponent, Andr茅s Manuel L贸pez Obrador.

    On the day before the Federal Electoral Institute, or I.F.E., begins its final official tabulation of an estimated 43 million ballots, questions were raised about the uncounted votes, missing tally sheets, nullified votes and ballots left blank that were registered in the preliminary count…

    A few dozen protesters gathered on a major street just south of Central Plaza here, the Z贸calo, wearing L贸pez Obrador T-shirts. “The election has been robbed!” they shouted. “We will fight!”

    […]

    The president of the electoral institute, Luis Carlos Ugalde, stunned many voters on Tuesday morning when he acknowledged in a television interview that the preliminary count could not be used to call the race and that slightly more than three million votes remained to be counted.

    He made clear that although many votes could be recounted, it was unlikely that all ballot boxes would be reopened. Mr. Ugalde said those ballots were not tallied because they were illegible or did not reach his offices in time. “It is a matter of human error,” Mr. Ugalde said, “not fraud.”

    […]

    In a news conference on Tuesday, Interior Minister Carlos Abascal played down the possibilities for a ballot-by-ballot recount, saying recounting every ballot was “physically impossible and also legally impossible.”

    […]

    Senator Jes煤s Ortega, Mr. L贸pez Obrador’s campaign manager, demanded that the electoral authorities open all the sealed ballot boxes. “I say for the health of the republic it would be good to recount vote by vote,” Mr. Ortega said.

    While Mr. L贸pez Obrador remained secluded in his apartment, his aides said their surveys of voters leaving polling places showed that he had won, and they predicted that the recount would give him a victory.

    “We are not in a power play here,” said Manuel Camacho Sol铆s, a former mayor of Mexico City who helped run the campaign. “But we are defending our rights.”

    Mr. Calder贸n’s aides continued to say the official count later this week would give him the victory.

    “In this election, Calder贸n had the advantage and that will be ratified once the count of all the election boards is finished,” said Germ谩n Mart铆nez, the National Action Party representative at the electoral institute.

    The count scheduled to begin Wednesday is not new here. The system has been in place since 1994. But it was considered little more than a formality because the last two presidential races were decided by such wide margins that the winners were announced shortly after the polls closed…

    The process will be the focus of intense scrutiny by party leaders and ordinary citizens alike. Outside the offices of the election commission, protesters have begun to gather to demand fairness. Some carried ballots marked for Mr. L贸pez Obrador that they said they had found in dumpsters in Milpa Alta. Others carried homemade posters, beseeching the election commission, “I.F.E. do not rob our hope.”

    Excerpts from the New York Times, July 4:

    Some Calder贸n supporters feared that L贸pez Obrador would refuse to accept the final results if they showed he had lost and incite unrest.

    On the other side, some leftists worried that the government would try to rob L贸pez Obrador of the presidency. Calder贸n belongs to the National Action Party of President Vicente Fox, and was the sitting president’s choice to succeed him.

    Both candidates fed those worries in television appearances Monday. L贸pez Obrador urged his supporters to “have patience” and said he would always “act responsibly.”

    But he said he would accept defeat only if his own review of the results showed he had lost. He did not rule out calling on supporters for mass marches and other acts of civil disobedience. “If we lost the election, I will recognize it,” he said. “But if I won, even by one vote, I am going to defend that triumph.”

    Calder贸n, appearing on national television a short while later, declared that the preliminary results showed clearly that he had won and that a few more days of counting would not change that. He called on his opponent to admit defeat and “begin a time of reconciliation and unity among Mexicans.”

    “I can assure all Mexicans that I won the elections and I have the papers in hand,” he said, waving the preliminary results. “It’s time to recognize the result,” he added. “It’s not my triumph. It’s the triumph of the people who voted.”

    The Times openly notes a cynical strategy on the part of Calderon to bait Lopez Obrador into living up to his demagogue stereotype:

    Mr. Calderon’s strategy seemed to be to declare victory and force Mr. Lopez Obrador into the uncomfortable position of having to challenge the results. If Mr. Lopez Obrador calls for marches to protest the election results, he confirms Mr. Calderon’s accusation that he is a rabble-rouser who does not respect democratic institutions.

    But the Times also notes that this strategy could backfire, from the perspective of the Mexican elites:

    “This society has a huge postponed poverty agenda, and Lopez Obrador speaks for these people [political pollster Dan] Lund said. “If he backs down without defending their votes, he runs the risk of pushing those people out of the electoral arena into other options that are not good for anyone.”

  2. Zapatistas rally against vote
    On the subject of “pushing people out of the electoral arena into other options…” From AlJazeera, July 2:

    Thousands of people have marched through Mexico city on the day of the country’s general election in a protest against the major political parties.

    The protesters, led by the masked Zapatista rebel leader “Subcommandante” Marcos, claimed that the elections would not offer a solution to the millions of Mexicans who live in poverty.

    “Our ideas of justice and liberty are bigger than the ballot boxes,” the protesters chanted on Sunday as they marched through the streets to capital’s historic Zocalo square.

  3. Dick Morris advised Calderon
    From the Dallas Morning News, May 25:

    Conservative Felipe Calder贸n opened his campaign for president with slogans focusing on honesty (“Clean Hands”) and patriotism (“Passion for Mexico”), but the nice-guy image wasn’t working.

    So the Harvard-educated lawyer embraced a U.S. style of political attacks against his top rival. He even spoke 鈥 informally, his campaign insists 鈥 with American consultants such as Bill Clinton adviser Dick Morris and Dallas’ Rob Allyn, a Republican strategist.

    Whether the consultants had anything to do with the change in tactics, no one will say, given Mexico’s extreme sensitivity to any appearance of outside influence in elections. But some critics are blaming the gringos for Mexico’s plunge into the mud.

    1. Felipe Calderon
      If Felipe Calderon got a law degree in Mexico and a degree in public administration at Harvard, is it not misleading to refer to him as a “Harvard educated lawyer”?

      1. No
        He has a master of public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, according to the omniscient Wikipedia. He is also a lawyer. You are rather splitting hairs. Please note that our original text refered to his as a “Harvard-trained economist.”

    2. us interest
      The last 4 mexican presidents have been helping “uncle sam” get more political and economic power,surely he wants a partnership with PEMEX (mexican oil company) to eventually control the oil industry in mexico. He needs Calderon’s help to convince the mexican congress for a need for foreign investment,only they can change or modify the law to permit this.In other words “uncle sam wants you” yes you mexican oil.