Mexico: Electoral Tribunal rules for Calderon; Lopez Obrador pledges parallel government

A unanimous decision of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Tribunal rejected allegations of systematic fraud and awarded Felipe Calderon the presidency Sept. 5, after two months of uncertainty. But his ability to rule effectively remains in doubt as Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refuses to recognise the victory and vows to lead a parallel popular government from below.

Calderon called opposition parties, including Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), to talks to try to end the two-month-long electoral standoff. “We can have different opinions, but we aren’t enemies,” he said.

But Lopez Obrador told his supporters in Mexico’s main Zocalo plaza: “I do not recognize someone who tries to act as the chief federal executive without having a legitimate and democratic mandate.” (EITB-24, Spain, Sept. 6)

Explaining their ruling, several of the Tribunal judges deplored the “black propaganda” they said Calderón and some business groups had used against Lopez Obrador, depicting him as a would-be leftist dictator who would bankrupt the nation. They also said President Vicente Fox had jeopardized the elections’ validity with numerous speeches that indirectly attacked the populist candidate.

But the judges ruled that Fox had not broken current electoral law, and that while the advertisements paid for by business leaders had violated the law, the judges found they did not influence the election enough to warrant overturning the results. (NYT, Sept. 6)

Democratic National Convention planned

On Aug. 28 the electoral authority, officially the Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch of the Republic (TEPJF), rejected most of the 375 challenges the PRD-led Coalition for the Good of All filed in the July 2 federal elections. In the official tallies the coalition’s candidate, Lopez Obrador, lost by just 0.58% to Calderon, the candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN).

The TEPJF’s seven judges said the coalition’s challenges were mostly without foundation, basing their decision on a review of about 9% of the polling places, which they had ordered on Aug. 5. There were many errors in the tabulation, but most seemed not to point to fraud, according to the TEPJF, which in the end annulled 81,080 of the votes for Calderon and 76,897 of the votes for Lopez Obrador–only slightly changing Calderon’s lead, which was originally given as 243,934.

Lopez Obrador’s supporters continue the encampments they set up on July 30 in Mexico’s main plaza, the Zocalo, and in the Reforma avenue to protest what they see as electoral fraud. They plan to hold their Democratic National Convention (CND) in the Zocalo on Sept. 16, when the plaza is normally used for Independence Day celebrations. The event would be a mass encounter of left and grassroots forces modeled on the CND called by the rebel Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in Chiapas in 1994.

Fox’s state-of-the-union address disrupted

On Sept. 1 legislators from the Coalition for the Good of All prevented President Fox from reading his state-of-the union report to the new session of Congress, a ceremony presidents have carried out each year at least since the end of the 1910 Mexican Revolution. Federal agents, troops and sharpshooters had kept the Congress building under tight security ever since PRD legislators tried to set up an encampment nearby on Aug. 14. During the opening session on Sept. 1, the PRD’s Senate leader, Carlos Navarrete Ruiz, made a speech charging that the heightened security represented an unconstitutional occupation of Congress by the president, since Fox hadn’t asked for congressional permission to send the agents and troops. As Navarrete spoke, senators and deputies from the PRD and the small leftist Workers Party (PT) occupied the podium at the front of the chamber; legislators from the Convergence party, also part of the Coalition for the Good of All, stood at their seats but didn’t join the occupation. The protesters said they wouldn’t leave until the security forces were withdrawn.

When Fox arrived, accompanied by hundreds of soldiers, he was told he wouldn’t be able to deliver his speech. He gave congressional leaders a copy of the report and left. Later the security was withdrawn, and the protesting legislators left the podium. The government and the leaders of the PAN and the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) have threatened to have the PRD, now the second largest group in the Chamber of Deputies, disqualified as a party. The Constitution requires the president to deliver a written report but doesn’t require the president to read it to Congress. ( Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 3)

Democratic transition in jeopardy

The TEPJF, also rendered the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judicial Power (TRIFE), was founded in 1996 as a part of Mexico’s transition to democracy. The Tribunal rules on disputes, while elections are carried out by the Federal Electoral Institute, an independent body which took over from the old Federal Electoral Commission also in 1996. The three major political parties and the Mexican Congress had to approve all seven of the Tribunal’s judges. The court has annulled 17 elections, and has ruled against all three parties. The TRIFE removed a PRI-dominated electoral board in Yucatan state, and annulled the election of a PAN congressman (for using an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in campaign literature.) In December 2000, the Tribunal annulled the gubernatorial election in Tabasco in which the PRI candidate had defeated his PRD opponent by 1.11 percent of the vote. In rendering their decision, a majority of judges cited “grave irregularities” such as vote-buying, and the greater coverage afforded the PRI standard-bearer by the state-owned television network. In the previous Tabasco gubernatorial race, in 1994, Lopez Obrador claimed his victory was stolen by the PRI candidate, and subsequently led a wave of protests in the state.

Supporting López Obrador’s challenge to Calderon’s victory are the PRD’s hardline Mexico City leader Marti Batres, members of the Rene Bejarano faction of the PRD known as the National Democratic Left, El Barzon debtors movement, the Pancho Villa Popular Front, the General Strike Council at the National Autonmous University (UNAM), and locals of the National Coordination of Educational Workers (CNTE). (Foreign Policy Research Institue, July 25; Mexidata, Aug. 28)

See our last posts on Mexico and the electoral crisis.

  1. More details
    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 10:

    As was expected, on Sept. 5 Mexico’s highest electoral authority, the Electoral Tribunal of the Judicial Branch of the Republic (TEPJF), officially declared the presidential candidate of the center-right National Action Party (PAN), Felipe Calderon Hinojosa, the winner of the July 2 presidential election. The court’s ruling, which cannot be appealed, slightly reduced Calderon’s lead over his main rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the center-left Coalition for the Good of All, to 233,831 votes, just 0.56% of the total vote.

    The TEPJF rejected Lopez Obrador’s charges of fraud in the vote count. It upheld charges that President Vicente Fox Quesada had indirectly campaigned against Lopez Obrador, failing to maintain the neutrality Mexican electoral law requires of the president, and that television ads by the Business Coordinating Council (CCE) indirectly targeting Lopez Obrador also violated electoral law. Both candidates had violated the prohibition against negative campaigning, according to the court. But the seven judges ruled unanimously that all the infractions taken together had not been enough to change the results. (La Jornada, Sept. 6)

    Calderon, who starts his six-year term on Dec. 1, made his first official visit as president-elect on Sept. 8, going to his home state of Michoacan to lay a wreath on the monument to Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, a hero in the struggle for independence, in Morelia, the state capital. Hundreds of Lopez Obrador’s supporters surrounded the Plaza Morelos chanting: “Like it or not, Felipe’s out of here.” Calderon’s sizeable security force decided to cancel the public event. Calderon did pay a visit to his mother and met with Michoacan governor Lazaro Cardenas Batel, a member of Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and a son of its founder, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solorzano. (LJ, Sep. 9; El Diario-La Prensa, NY, Sept. 10 from AP)