The Count Continues
Although it could be a couple months before Sunday's national election is decided, Felipe Calderón is acting pretty presidential, talking about schmoozing with the divided Congress and tackling Mexico's immigration problem.
"I'm going to be a president who plays on the soccer field, making personal contact with legislators," he told the Wall Street Journal. "He added that in the past, Mexican presidents met with the legislature only once a year, during the annual state of the nation speech. But he wants a closer relationship, pledging to eat breakfast with a different group of lawmakers almost daily.
"Mr. Calderón vowed to work closely with the U.S. to resolve immigration and drug trafficking, particularly by working on joint projects to generate jobs in Mexico. 'One kilometer built of rural road in a poor area of [the Mexican state of] Michoacán is better than 10 kilometers of fence in Texas or Arizona,' he said."
Judging from comments to the Associated Press, Calderón is either feeling very confident or is a pretty good poker player. "In an exclusive interview with [the AP], the National Action Party's Calderón said he would be willing to include [Andrés Manuel] López Obrador in his Cabinet -- an effort to build a coalition government and avoid weeks of political impasse. But he said he did not believe his opponent would accept, adding that the two men had not spoken to each other since Sunday's election."
The Harvard-educated, 43-year-old conservative also sat down with El Universal, telling the Mexico City paper that he's instructed his staff to reach out to all of this country's political parties.
Ironically, Calderón has been arguing that everyone ought to stay focused on "votes" not "whims." Sort of funny, given that throughout at least part of Wednesday his opponent, López Obrador, had inched ahead in the counting. Late Tuesday, Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) had to acknowledge that its margin had shrunk from about 400,000 to a little more than 250,000 votes.
How Do You Say "Hanging Chad" en Español?
Over the next few days it's going to be a see-saw, with Calderón up one minute and López Obrador ahead the next. It's the nature of counting. But before we get to the challenges, a bit more on how the multi-step process works here.
First, it is important to understand that the counting underway right now is not an extraordinary procedure. It happens each election in 300 districts across the country, all overseen by the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE).
"In the Mexican electoral process, polling station volunteers compile the ballots and put them together in an 'electoral package.' Along with the package, the station president attaches a report that includes the complete tally contained within," the the Miami Herald's Mexico edition reports. "The most basic information -- the quantity of votes for each presidential candidate, for example -- is visible on the outside of the envelope so that when the entire package is delivered to regional compilation centers, polling workers can immediately enter the information into the (electoral commission's) computer system."
Those preliminary results are known as the PREP. It is not -- repeat NOT -- a complete accounting of every single vote cast.
Confusion arose Monday when López Obrador began referring to 2 million to 3 million "missing" ballots. In reality, those were set aside because of "'inconsistencies' such as poor handwriting or extraneous marks on the tally sheets attached outside each ballot box," according to Luis Carlos Ugalde, president of the federal election commission.
On Wednesday, district officials (with representatives from the federal commission and the political parties keeping close watch) began comparing the vote totals reported Sunday night with the actual tally sheets. If there is any doubt about the total written on the outside of the vote "package," the officials open it and count each individual ballot.
Experts inside and outside Mexico say it is a solid process that ought to be able to withstand the scrutiny it is now under. "Electoral officials said the law allowed ballot boxes to be opened only if there were evidence of tampering or if the tally sheets were illegible or had mistakes in calculations," reports the New York Times.
"'The bottom line is it is very difficult to imagine fraud taking place, given the number of safeguards built into the system,'" said Chris Sabatini, senior director of policy at the Americas Society-Council of the Americas, which has electoral observers here. Right now, the process is working. López Obrador has presented his complaints, and because the system is so transparent, those complaints can be resolved as the process continues.'"
All this means a growing likelihood that the 2006 presidential contest is headed to Mexico's version of a Supreme Court. The Austin American-Statesman reported: "Legal challenges will end up in front of the 10-year-old Federal Electoral Tribunal, which could annul the election. The tribunal's decision, which can't be appealed, is due by the beginning of September, meaning Mexico could be in for a long, bitter summer of political maneuvering. The tribunal is widely seen in Mexico as more independent than the U.S. Supreme Court, whose justices pass through what often is a highly partisan Senate approval process. The seven members of the tribunal are nominated by the Mexican Supreme Court and approved by the Mexican Senate."
In an interview with the Financial Times, a top López Obrador adviser seemed to support the notion this could drag out all summer long: "Manuel Camacho, a congressman for Mr López Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and a key strategist in the leftwing candidate's campaign, told the FT yesterday: 'We are almost certainly going to contest this election . . . but we are not going to generate a dispute unless we are sure of our arguments.'"
AMLO, as López Obrador is known in Mexico City, has yet to summon his passionate supporters to the street, as some fear he will do, but he has urged them to head to their district government offices to observe the counting. (This reminds Campaign Conexión of one of the best photos from the 2000 Florida recount -- remember that poor guy with his eyes bulging out of his head?)
Put Mary Anastasia O'Grady, editor of the weekly America's column in Wall Street Journal, in the López Obrador-is-evil camp: "The problem for Mr. López Obrador is that in order to prevail, he has to do more than convince Mexicans that Mr. Calderón is a thieving opponent who managed a massive conspiracy against the will of the people," she wrote after speaking to Calderón. "He also has to portray the IFE and the thousands of citizen volunteers -- who on Sunday put on a clinic for the rest of the world on how to run a transparent and orderly election -- as enemies of the Mexican people. That won't be easy, and public opinion is fast turning against him."
I like the idea floated by columnist Jorge Eugenio Ortiz Gallegos. Let's rip open those boxes!
AMLO sidenote: Taking a page from his own whacky mayoral habits, AMLO called an early morning press conference. It wasn't his usual 6 a.m. session, but because his invitation was e-mailed at 1 a.m., Campaign Conexión did not learn about the 8 a.m. session until after it was over.
Good or Bad for Democracy?
President Vicente Fox, the lame duck who keeps on quacking, is urging calm. "It is the responsibility of all of the political actors to follow the law and respect the time [IFE] needs to announce the election results," he said.
Some observers are not concerned, hailing the events this week as an indication that Mexico's democracy is maturing.
"We don't have a clear winner, but that is a sign of clean elections," Mexican commentator Ana Paula Ordorica told the Christian Science Monitor. "It's just like in any other democracy -- Germany or Italy -- where votes have to be counted carefully and every vote counts."
The process is so thorough that Calderón and others in Mexico have been ribbing the United States about its 2000 electoral debacle (when the candidate with the most votes lost). "We have such advanced institutions that we can do what the United States couldn't," Calderón quipped.
But George W. Grayson, a well-known Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary who served an official observer here, is worried. "Whoever is the ultimate winner, he will face a sharply divided Congress. This irresponsible body thwarted Mr Fox's proposed fiscal, judicial, labour and energy reforms," he writes in the Financial Times. "The viciousness of the electoral campaign will work against the forging of coalitions. Mexico evinces democratic trappings, but deeply-seated intolerance means that politicians regard their foes not as the loyal opposition but as the enemy."
That sort of rhetorical brinksmanship is pretty common here these days. López Obrador declared Wednesday: "The political stability of the country hangs in the balance."
Yowee. Now Campaign Conexión is feeling the pressure.
-- Ceci Connolly
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