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."

AMLO's World

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

By Editors |  July 6, 2006; 7:25 AM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
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The NYTimes published story this morning on the Mexican election raises the important questions to the electoral process here. In the six boxes opened within district 8 and the one box opened in district 11, there were errors in the count. In the tally sheet for one box in district 8, there were 235 votes counted for Calderón that did not exist! The problems, as the article points-out, are not necessarily in the process of the IFE, and perhaps definitely not within their offices in Mexico City. This evidence points to where the problems most likely exist, out in the field, at the casillas, where it is difficult to effecitevely supervise the work of the volunteers. This evidence and the realities of human errors and human whims, make it important in such a tight race, where every vote does literally count, to open-up the boxes and make the counts vote-by-vote.

On a side-note, it is important to remember that AMLO has been persecuted since he announced his candidacy. Unfortunately, the land distribute that served as a reason to try and prevent him from running for the presidency, was about building an exit from the Mexico-Toluca highway so that ambulances could quickly access the new ABC (American British Cowdray) Hospital in the Santa Fé region of Mexico City. So, why do people, especially in Mexico City, crowd do the streets in his defense? Because they feel and see the benefits from his governance of this City and they want the same for the entire country. Perhaps the demonstrations that could occur are more representative of frustrating differences and desires between the Northern and Southern states. People voicing their opinions in this way is a part of growing democracy in Mexico, and not a mob mentality.

Posted by: C. Rose | July 6, 2006 09:55 AM

I would hardly call the 6AM mayoral press conferences whacky. They must have been exhausting, and the represent some of the lengths AMLO has gone to do a good job as a public servant. I do not understand why you are referring to them as whacky, is it not a good thing to open one's daily agenda, daily successes and difficulties, to the press and the people? Is that not about showing and demonstrating, at least in part, who he was serving?

I think 7-hours was definitely enough, and I imagine he was more concerned with informing the media through the main channels here, TVAzteca, Televisa, and ONCE. I guess it was your loss if you did not get there within the 7-hour window he allowed. As those "whacky" 6 AM press conferences demonstrates, as a rule, AMLO does not hide from the press.

Posted by: C. Rose | July 6, 2006 10:02 AM

Elections authorities made so many mistakes in the last few days that I don't blame AMLO's supporters if they take to the streets. Intentional or not, it has the appearence of manipulation.

First, the authorities announced that 98% of the votes had been counted in the quick count, when it was really only 86%. This gave the impression that the Calderon lead was insurmountable. Whether this was deliberately misleading or just plain incompetence, it was bad.

Second, as the votes came in yesterday, nobody mentioned that they were coming in first from the southern regions and then from the North, so AMLO was actually in the lead until roughly 97% of the votes came in. An 11th hour turnaround always looks suspicious, particularly in a country with a history of voter fraud.

Finally, the refusal (and this may be statuatory) to open boxes with suspicious tallies and recount them. Apparently only boxes that appear to have been tampered with can be recounted. But if their was fraud (or the appearence of fraud) at a regional level, there seems to be no way to check it.

I agree that this process has been fairly transparent overall, but there are some major lingering problems that won't eliminate the appearence of vote manipulation. It's like they are begging for street protests, which could get ugly.

Posted by: Yakima | July 6, 2006 10:13 AM

AMLO is president of mexico, he won, fair and square, however, the media in mexico, the capitalists, the bankers, the goverment, are all out to stop him. Is it any wonder that Felipe Calderon, who is the goverments fav for president, has a brother in law, who worked on the vote tally programs for the IFE? A great fraud has been cooked up, but this isnt 1988, today with the internet, we in mexico will mobilize, take to the streets, occupy gov. offices, untill the votes are counted, one by one, and if need be, a run off election, between, AMLO and FECAL. This way their can be no doubt, about who wins. Viva AMLO a defender la democracia!

Posted by: maya0 | July 6, 2006 10:58 AM

It seems that the PRI lost twice this election. First with Madrazo, and now the refounded and more reactionary PRI known as the PRD has also lost. Good.

Posted by: Jerry Bourbon | July 6, 2006 11:37 AM

Sorry, Jerry:

The policy child of PRI is PAN, not the PRD. Salinas and Zedillo's radical free market policies fit more with PAN's than with PRD.

Free market policies have been implemented in Mexico for the last 16 years and have failed.

Hopefully this close of an election will make Calderon listen to ideas from Lopez Obrador instead of sticking to stale failed policies.

Posted by: Hugo Estrada | July 6, 2006 01:18 PM

The 6AM mayoral press conferences, was a source of free advertising for the AMLO campaign. It was very unfair that no other Governor of any state had this mass media outlet at his avail, otherwise we would have had many other contestants for the presidency.

Living in Mexico City, unemployed and not belonging to any of the groups who is receiveing subsides, like the elderly, i can say AMLO has been nothing but a constant source of stress an provocation to Mexican society.
When he was a mayor he did nothing to attack the real problems on the city. Everything he did was cosmetic in nature and with the only purpose of getting votes for this elections. Like remodelations to Reforma Avenue, a costly remodelation, that was unnecessary because only a year before, his predecessor from the same party, did also with the same purpose of looking good to atract voters.

What it is so difficult to believe for me, is to know that so many people had fell too easily in such obvious, old and tired tricks of demagogy.

Posted by: J.C Negron | July 6, 2006 01:19 PM

I am no fan of AMLO, but the way that this election results have been handled looks kind of suspicious, to say the least. Why is the IFE refusing to allow a manual, ballot-by-ballot recount? Ugalde's argument that such a recount is not contemplated in the laws is not good enough, especially in an election so close. If a manual recount isn't done, there will always be questions and doubts about these results. Remember 1988 and the Cardenas election.

Posted by: DC Gal | July 6, 2006 02:00 PM

AMLO has lost as he should. His party is made up of the majority of the potentially worst ex PRI members. If AMLO ever get's control the poor may get a better deal but the new members of the government will profit a lot more than either of the governments of Carlos Salinas or other renowned PRIs.

Posted by: Dennis Marlow | July 6, 2006 03:24 PM

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