Copyrighted material


by Diego Cevallos

on Mexico's election crisis

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- In a preliminary ruling Monday, Mexico's electoral court rejected leftist candidate Andres Lopez Obrador's claims that the July 2 elections, in which he was narrowly defeated by conservative candidate Felipe Calderon, were marred by widespread fraud.

In a unanimous decision, the seven-judge panel stated that after studying the legal challenges brought by the leftwing candidate, they found no evidence of large-scale irregularities in the official vote count.

Although they did annul the results from some voting stations, that did not affect Calderon's lead.

The judges have until Sept. 6 to decide on the rest of the legal complaints and name a president-elect, in a final ruling that cannot be appealed.

The electoral court will now study the left's request to annul the elections. However, Monday's ruling left little doubt that Calderon will be confirmed as the winner.

The coalition made up of Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and small allied parties argues that massive fraud was committed in the elections, and that the candidates competed in unequal conditions in the campaign.

The electoral court has been working in an increasingly polarized scenario, in which one of the only points on which there is agreement is that Mexico's electoral institutions and laws are in need of finetuning.

The 0.58 percent margin with which Calderon, of the conservative governing National Action Party (PAN), defeated Lopez Obrador made the July elections the closest in Mexican history.

The coalition backing Lopez Obrador complains that there was bias in the campaign, a charge that is shared by some election observers, such as the San Francisco-based human rights group Global Exchange.

For months prior to the elections, the government of Vicente Fox made speeches and broadcast ads that indirectly criticized the leftist candidate. Complaints were made to the electoral authorities, who ordered the president to put a stop to these activities, although that only occurred a month before the elections.

Mexico's business chambers also placed ads lashing out at Lopez Obrador, which the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) decided was inappropriate, although it only managed to bring a halt to such activity three days before the elections.

In its campaign, the PAN produced media spots calling the leftist candidate "a danger to Mexico" and making unsubstantiated accusations of corruption. The IFE finally ordered that these attack ads be pulled.

The current members of IFE were appointed to 10-year terms in 2003. However, none of the nine members was approved by the PRD. The majority that elected them was made up of legislators from the PAN and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had ruled the country for seven decades until Fox won the elections in 2000.

The chairman of the IFE, Luis Carlos Ugalde, is reportedly a friend of Calderon's, and served as an adviser to the PRI in the past. He is also allegedly close to the controversial head of the teachers' union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who has been accused of carrying out an underground campaign to get the union's members to vote for the PAN candidate.

"We have no respect for the institutions, because they do not answer to the people. We will create our own institutions, which will belong to the people," Lopez Obrador told thousands of his followers Sunday.

Since late July, his supporters have been blocking traffic and camping out on Mexico City's main Reforma avenue and the central Zocalo plaza.

Lopez Obrador has repeatedly stated that he will not recognize the electoral court's ruling unless a total recount of the votes is carried out. However, the electoral court decided on a partial recount, which did not modify the outcome of the elections.

The leftwing coalition has warned that if Calderon is confirmed as president-elect, Lopez Obrador will be declared the country's "legitimate" president by a people's assembly.

Lopez Obrador has charged that electoral court judges have been bribed, although he has not presented any evidence to prove his allegation.

In the last 10 years, the rulings of the electoral court, whose members are chosen by consensus by all of the political parties, including the left, have never been questioned nor have its members been accused of bias or corruption.

In the seven decades of PRI rule, electoral fraud was common. However, over the past 20 years, nonpartisan, fully autonomous national election institutions were created, which international observers have held up as examples for other countries.

But since the July elections, the institutions have found themselves in crisis, and today all political actors agree on the need for reforms in order to avoid a future repeat of the current stand-off.

Global Exchange, which has observed elections in a dozen countries since 1994, suggests that Mexico's election laws be modified to allow a second round of voting in the case of extremely tight races, which would not only "guarantee the legitimacy of the winner," but would also reduce the length and cost of elections.

Ted Lewis, the head of the Global Exchange election observers mission, also recommended that Mexico reform its electoral laws to allow a second round of voting in extremely tight races, which he said "would guarantee the legitimacy of the winner in the elections," as well as reduce the length and cost of campaigns

Although Lewis said Mexico's election laws and institutions had made significant advances in recent years, he added that it is important today to ensure that they offer Mexican voters the greatest possible certainty and transparency.

The activist said his organization had found evidence of irregularities at each of the 60 voting stations where its observers were posted, including "polling places with more ballots cast than registered voters, intimidation, vote-buying, the unauthorized intervention of political leaders and a lack of knowledge among volunteer poll workers."

The Global Exchange observers said they found vote-buying, intimidation and the hauling of voters in the state of Mexico, near the capital, and in the southern state of Oaxaca, as well as the use of federal and state social programs for electoral ends by both the government and the PRI.

After the elections, the left began to question the country's electoral institutions when the IFE failed to promptly report that hundreds of thousands of votes were not included in the official tally and had been placed in a special file due to inconsistencies.

The waning confidence in the country's election institutions is "a substantial loss whose consequences cannot be underestimated. A shared strategic patrimony is being undermined before our eyes," lamented former IFE president Jose Woldenberg, who oversaw the elections in which Fox won the presidency in 2000.

Due to the electoral reforms carried out over the past two decades, opposition parties gradually began to win city and state governments, until the PRI finally lost its grip on the federal government in 2000.

Mexico's new electoral institutions were so widely respected that the United Nations even invited Mexican election authorities to serve as advisers in elections in other countries, such as Iraq. And in the weeks before the July elections, European Union observers went so far as to state that fraud was nearly impossible in Mexico today.

But now the clamor is growing for greater transparency and new mechanisms to prevent a situation like the present one.

"In the current crisis of the electoral system, there is no turning back, which means that sooner or later it will be subjected to new changes," Modesto Jaime, a political scientist with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

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Albion Monitor   August 28, 2006   (

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