Missing Ballots, Court Challenges and Hints of Street Protests
While Americans will spend today celebrating democracy with hot dogs, ice cream and fireworks, Mexicans are still dealing with the occasional messes that popular elections tend to produce.
Preliminary counts from Sunday's national election give a 1 percentage point lead to Felipe Calderón, the conservative who ran on promises to continue the work of President Vicente Fox. But left-leaning Andrés Manuel López Obrador asserts that when every ballot is counted -- including some 3 million that are "missing" -- he will be the rightful winner.
First, the news -- as best as we can determine it in this unpredictable environment.
The head of Mexico's electoral institute, Luis Carlos Ugalde, announced that the "missing ballots" were tossed out because of errors. That sounds like a lot of errors to Campaign Conexión and could well form the basis of a legal challenge by López Obrador. (More on that in just a moment.)
The other "news," if you can call it that, is that Roberto Madrazo seems to recognize what everyone else has been saying for months: He's done, and his party is severely injured.
Madrazo, after a meeting with governors from his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), acknowledged the election process was "not in our favor." (Cut the man some slack; it's hard to say "I lost.") Describing the process as "legal, legitimate, transparent" and leaving no doubt, Madrazo said he did not intend to fight in the courts.
By acknowledging the legitimacy of the results, Madrazo appears to be lending a hand to Calderón and undermining talk by the López Obrador camp that the vote count is suspect. That's just a theory, but keep an eye out for that line of argument.
One cannot underestimate the poor showing by Madrazo and the PRI. Though polls had suggested for months that he would not win, his weak performance nationwide and the strong showing by López Obrador's Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) effectively reshaped the political landscape here, perhaps for decades.
(Here's a map showing just that from the Miami Herald's Mexico edition.)
In an excellent analysis, Kelly Arthur Garrett describes the new, very sharp division in Mexico: "The electorate gave more or less the same number of votes to a confirmed believer in unfettered free-market capitalism as it gave to a center-left advocate of an active government role in eradicating poverty. That makes for a classic left-right split unknown in Mexico since the Revolution, or perhaps since the civil wars of the 19th century.
"The most revealing statistic of the new Mexican political paradigm is how the states swung in the presidential race. Of the 32 entities (31 states and Mexico City), exactly 16 went for López Obrador and exactly 16 for Felipe Calderón of the rightwing National Action Party. None gave the PRI´s Roberto Madrazo a majority."
How Crazy Will It Get?
The streets of Mexico have remained relatively calm since Sunday night's wild developments. But the spin from both sides about López Obrador is dizzying. On the one hand, López Obrador and his own aides, with chests puffed out, are raising the specter of street protests and prolonged court cases.
In a breathless "urgent, exclusive" bulletin late Tuesday morning, Reuters said AMLO "will call street protests if necessary to challenge an election he says was full of irregularities, senior aides said Tuesday."
López Obrador, a charismatic scrappy pol, has been talking out of both sides of his mouth, promising to respect the count -- if it's a good one. "It's very healthy for everyone if we can be satisfied by a review of the ballots," he said in one interview. Then in another: "If we lost the election, I will recognize it. But if I won, even by one vote, I am going to defend that triumph."
At the same time, Calderón's team seems just as eager to stoke fears that chaos -- perhaps even violence -- will reign if the election is not resolved quickly. Calderón "called on his opponent to admit defeat and 'begin a time of reconciliation and unity among Mexicans," the New York Times reported. "'I can assure all Mexicans that I won the elections, and I have the papers in hand,' he said, brandishing the preliminary results."
There's certainly a good bit of history to suggest López Obrador will aggressively fight the results, and Mexico's legal bodies will look upon his challenge favorably.
"López Obrador's rejection of the preliminary tally fueled worries that he might organize massive protests, as he did in 1988 and 1994, to protest his defeat in gubernatorial elections," writes Chris Hawley in the Arizona Republic. "The former Mexico City mayor also summoned tens of thousands of demonstrators during a short-lived effort to impeach him last year."
The Los Angeles Times recounts two controversial electoral incidents (some say stolen) seared in the memory of many PRD followers: "In the first, party founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas lost the 1988 presidential election and refrained from rallying supporters into the streets. But popular outrage over the vote, widely perceived as rigged, helped spur a peaceful movement that eventually toppled the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in 2000, after decades of autocratic rule," according to Richard Boudreaux.
"In the second, the PRI cheated López Obrador in the 1994 Tabasco governor's race. But his futile protest shut down the state's oil wells and led to violent clashes with police, in which the candidate was clubbed on the head and photographed with a bloody shirt."
The Miami Herald, citing an interview with PRD spokesman Gerardo Fernandez, provides a timetable and PRD rationale for a challenge: "The final call rests with the Federal Electoral Institute. A recount begins Wednesday and could drag on for several days. Any challenges have to be turned in by Sunday, officials said. In the event that irregularities are found, the entire election results could be appealed to an election tribunal that doesn't have to rule before Sept. 2."
Putting It All in Context
Houston Chronicle Mexico City bureau chief Dudley Althaus writes there is a possibility -- albeit very small -- that the electoral commission would annul Sunday's results and call for a new vote.
But much more interesting in his dispatch is the historical perspective the veteran correspondent details: "At 52, López Obrador has at least one, and likely more chances at Mexico's presidency. His political movement did well in Sunday's election -- even if he eventually loses -- and could pick up further support in the coming years if the PRI erodes as many analysts expect it to."
All this makes the editorial writers at the Financial Times very worried: "A contested result would be the worst possible conclusion to what has been a rancorous and divisive period of campaigning. It provides nascent democratic institutions with a tough test. In any democracy this would be undesirable. But in a country as socially unequal and politically polarised as Mexico it could be destabilising."
Campaign Conexión isn't that worried -- yet. For now, it's back to the barbecue grill. Happy Fourth of July!
-- Ceci Connolly
Blogs That Reference This Entry
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Yakima | July 4, 2006 01:55 PM
Posted by: EduardoFlores | July 4, 2006 02:44 PM
Posted by: pasilla | July 4, 2006 02:50 PM
Posted by: Yakima | July 4, 2006 03:00 PM
Posted by: Gabriel | July 4, 2006 03:09 PM
Posted by: Keith Dannemiller | July 4, 2006 03:12 PM
Posted by: Yakima | July 4, 2006 03:29 PM
Posted by: JoMama | July 4, 2006 04:39 PM
Posted by: MexicanInMexico | July 4, 2006 06:02 PM
Posted by: pasilla | July 4, 2006 08:34 PM
Posted by: Goyo | July 4, 2006 08:58 PM
Posted by: Keith Dannemiller | July 4, 2006 09:35 PM
Posted by: Marco Beteta | July 5, 2006 03:04 AM
Posted by: JoMama | July 5, 2006 09:20 AM
Posted by: Vickie Trempers | July 5, 2006 09:31 AM
Posted by: VivaCalderon06 | July 5, 2006 10:59 AM
Posted by: Mexican In Mexico | July 5, 2006 11:36 AM
Posted by: huey | July 5, 2006 12:42 PM
Posted by: JoMama | July 5, 2006 02:00 PM
Posted by: huey | July 5, 2006 02:33 PM
Posted by: Alan K | July 5, 2006 02:58 PM
Posted by: Emilio | July 5, 2006 02:59 PM
Posted by: Emilio | July 5, 2006 04:01 PM
Posted by: Joe Chip | July 5, 2006 04:32 PM
Posted by: Yakima | July 5, 2006 05:11 PM
Posted by: Emilio | July 5, 2006 05:34 PM
Posted by: Javier Delgado | July 5, 2006 07:57 PM
Posted by: JoMama | July 5, 2006 09:07 PM
Posted by: livingbettermexico | July 25, 2006 10:02 PM
Posted by: Que Pereza Loaeza | August 3, 2006 04:08 AM