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by Diego Cevallos

The Fall of Mexico's "Cactus Wall" (2000 election)

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- Mexico awoke Monday morning to not one, but two claims of presidential victory -- one from the governing-party candidate and another from his left-leaning opponent -- although the winner has yet to be officially declared. The unprecedented scenario has tensions running high and is putting the country's democratic institutions to the test.

It will be Wednesday -- at the earliest -- before the independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) can declare the winner of Sunday's elections. It has said the race between Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) is simply still too close to call.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: On July 4, Calderon claimed victory with a 400,000 vote lead, and Obrador demanded a full recount of all 41 million ballots, which will take weeks]

"It has come down a volatile worst-case scenario. It is going to show us what our electoral institutions are really made of, but we are already concerned about how the candidates are handling it," Luis Ortiz, an independent elections analyst, told IPS.

According to Denize Dresser, a political analyst at Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute, the results confirm that the "electorate is truly polarized."

"Many voted for change (Lopez Obrador) but just as many voted to stay the course (Calderon). Many were willing to take a chance on the unknown, but an equal number took shelter in the safe, familiar port," she said.

IFE president Luis Carlos Ugalde asked the candidates to act responsibly and refrain from victory speeches, as the razor-thin margin between the two has made it impossible to call a winner.

Nevertheless, close to midnight on Sunday night, Lopez Obrador appeared before the press and then in front of supporters gathered in the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square, asking the electoral commission to recognize and ratify his victory.

Calderon tread more lightly. Although he announced that most exit polls and the IFE counts indicated he would succeed fellow PAN politician President Vicente Fox, he added he would wait for the electoral commission's final announcement.

The PAN candidate received the highest percentage of support in polls conducted outside voting stations, but his lead over Lopez Obrador was so slim as to be statistically insignificant.

The scenario is a serious challenge to the country's democratic process. "The temptation is to cement an election win in public squares and the media," observed political analyst Alfonso Zarate, director of the non-governmental organization Grupo Consultor Interdisciplinario.

Sunday's vote, which also elected both houses of Congress, three governors and the mayor of Mexico City, was supported by a massive turnout.

In terms of the Chamber of Deputies, the latest official counts show PAN ahead in votes, followed by the PRD and, in distant third place, the once-powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held the government for 71 years until Fox won in 2000. No party won an absolute majority in the 500-seat Chamber or the 128-member Senate.

PRI presidential candidate Roberto Madrazo won 20 percent of the votes. Trailing far behind, with less than six percent, were Patricia Mercado of the Alternative Party and Roberto Campa of New Alliance.

PAN candidates were elected to each of the three governor positions (Guanajuato, Jalisco and Morelos). The new mayor of Mexico City is PRD candidate Marcelo Ebrad -- the left-leaning party has governed the city since 1997. Lopez Obrador held the post from 2001 to 2005.

Local and international observers commented on the electric atmosphere in the days leading up to the elections and Sunday itself. They also praised the strength and credibility of the IFE, which they called one of the world's most trustworthy electoral commissions.

Analysts say that IFE is now immersed in an unprecedented trial by fire, which extends to political parties and the candidates who must accept the final results, whatever they may be.

"This is democracy. We all need to trust the IFE and wait for the final result, because there cannot be a tie for president," said the analyst Ortiz.

What concerned observers most in the late hours was Lopez Obrador's attitude. He announced that "we are going to make sure our victory is respected," and even suggested there had been vote rigging against him.

Calderon, meanwhile, said he would fully honour the IFE final count and decision, although he insisted he was the winner.

Both candidates indicated in speeches that once their victory was made official, they would begin building relationships with their opponents.

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Albion Monitor   July 3, 2006   (

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