Blessed Silencio as Campaigns Go Dark

When they say no campaigning in Mexico, they mean it. Federal law here requires a three-day pause for "reflection" prior to Sunday's vote, meaning Internet sites are dark, candidates are hunkered down and the airwaves are blissfully free of the political rat-a-tat-tat.

Pollsters had to clam up a week before Election Day and in many parts of Mexico City, volunteers were pulling down signs late Wednesday to comply with what I like to think of as the peace-and-quiet rule.

In case you doubt me, click on any of the candidate Web sites and you'll see a screen with just a short message explaining that in compliance with election laws, "this site has been disabled," as Robert Madrazo's states.

Felipe Calderón took a slightly more sophisticated approach, directing cyber surfers to the Web site of his National Action Party, or PAN.

López Obrador's Web site: "In agreement with the dispositions set forth in electoral legislation, this site is off line."

Just to recap what many are describing as the most competitive election in Mexican history, there are five candidates vying to succeed Vicente Fox and three have a real shot at winning. The two frontrunners in polls over the past 6 weeks have been Calderón, a conservative running as Fox's heir, and Andres Manuel López Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor who is running on a platform of aiding the poor through massive social programs.

Madrazo, the candidate of the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, has trailed in every survey, and the discussion of late in Mexico is just how low he will go.

Calderón has spent far and away the most of radio and TV advertising, and Madrazo's PRI is believed to still have the most impressive national, political machine.

But it is López Obrador who has been generating the most excitement.

"For two years López Obrador and his supporters have been preparing for this moment: the homestretch of a campaign in which thousands of grass-roots volunteers and a seasoned party apparatus have the chance to make history and bring the left to power in Mexico for the first time," writes Hector Tobar, describing rural activists and Mexico City senior citizens as two of AMLO's "secret weapons."

Mexico's Power Brokers

Now all eyes are on the Instituto Federal Electoral, or IFE, which is in charge of administering the election. A primer for English speakers posted on the IFE Web site outlines how campaigns are financed, the registration process and the counting on election night.

The agency recently announced that its computer system had withstood a rigorous test by hackers. It has also authorized 357 volunteers from 41 countries to observe Sunday's election.

Luis Carlos Ugalde, president of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, speaks with confidence about Mexico's voting system. (Christina Pino-Marina /

There had been early anxiety that Mexico was headed for a U.S.-style recount, but those fears seem to have subsided. Arturo Gallardo, editor of closes the campaign season on a relatively optimistic note.

"The most important aspect of this election will be the transparency of the process itself, for without it, suspicion will arise and the winner of the presidential election cannot claim a true mandate from the people," he writes. "If the election is not handled credibly, with honor and integrity, the candidates and parties will feel the right - if not the obligation - to contest the results.

"Fortunately, the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, has progressed significantly since the questionable presidential election of 1988, offering enough transparency - at least until now - to prevent flagrant irregularities.We will see. This electoral process should be more than a test of good and effective campaigning; it should be a true examination of the IFE and its ability to handle a close, and possibly contested, presidential race."

By |  June 30, 2006; 8:47 AM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
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How is it that Mexico has better electoral institutions than the US? Even the Supreme Court decided the 2000 election along partisan lines. What institution in the US could be trusted to arbitrate disputes fairly and generate useful rules like the three-day reflection period?

Posted by: Mark Borgschulte | June 30, 2006 12:15 PM

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