on Mexico's election crisis
radio announcer described, in a serious voice, the "catastrophe" that would ensue if Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who is seen as a leftist, won the July 2 elections. He called on listeners to vote for the National Action Party (PAN) candidate Felipe Calderon. The message was broadcast on the religious radio show "New Life," based in California.
Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), is not exactly a communist. His government platform could even be considered centrist. So where does the "leftist" label come from that his political enemies attribute to him?
Two years ago, when Mexico's three major party candidates were announced, Mexico City Mayor Lopez Obrador had a wide lead in the polls. He was the candidate to beat. And Mexican President Vicente Fox put his team to work. With the complicity of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had governed the country from 1929 to 2000, President Fox tried to remove Lopez Obrador from office by accusing him of an alleged abuse of power. With no evidence, however, the attempt was unsuccessful. But the president did not give up.
He had to take control of the situation. That's when words like "leftist" and "populist" began to be used to describe the Mexico City mayor. An aggressive smear campaign began through certain media outlets, most notably on Mexican television.
During PRI's monopoly over the country, Mexican television network Televisa, owned by the Azcarraga family and "PRI soldiers," enjoyed a similar monopoly. Since PAN took office with the election of Vicente Fox in 2000, Televisa has maintained its power. Now, along with its competitor TV Azteca, which emerged when the government sold off its TV stations during the Carlos Salinas de Gortari administration (1988-1994), the two corporations have been battling for the government's favor.
The fear campaign led by Fox could count on the wide support of television and its affiliated radio stations. As a reward, the PAN administration created the "Television law," which assures that the two corporations have control over the television market.
PAN candidate Calderon also had the crucial support of the Catholic Church and other religious groups. The "leftist" label accomplished its goal: to scare wide sectors of the Mexican public into thinking that the possibility of a Lopez Obrador win could impose communism and prohibit religion in the country.
The increasing polarization of the electorate was intensified by the debacle of the PRI, which was experiencing its own internal divisions. Thanks to pragmatic voters, thousands of discontented PRI supporters decided to vote for PAN.
Independent journalists were surprized by the ferocity of the negative campaigns. Two pillars of American-style politics had invaded Mexico: polls and the bombardment of television ads. PAN benefited from the large resources it spent on TV commercials. It released dozens of polls that proclaimed a winner, many of which were found to be incorrect and were simply an attempt to influence voters.
Business owners also joined together to support Calderon. A group of business leaders sponsored TV ads that warned the citizenry of the danger that Lopez Obrador represented for the country and its future, while the Mexico City newspaper "La Cronica" launched a personal attack against him.
PAN had learned not only from its neighbors to the north, but also from the political dealings of the PRI. The administration's resources were used to shore up the image of the party in power and its presidential candidate. According to independent reports, PAN also used the familiar tactic of credit distribution and official gifts with political ends. More questions arose when the public learned that Felipe Calderon's family business was responsible for creating the Federal Elections Institute (IFE)'s computer program that may have permitted PAN to access privileged information.
Fox won the 2000 presidential election with the support of those who wanted to end the corruption of the PRI ruling party. Fox leaves behind a legacy of his hesitancy, his provincial style and the corruption of his administration that includes multi-million dollar businesses owned by his step-children, influence peddling and a canceled investigation into his campaign's finances.
Now PAN, with the blessing of Washington, is attempting to impose a more "professional," conservative agenda. What better way to do this than a quick, conclusive electoral victory. But how?
The old system of electoral fraud mastered by the PRI has become obsolete. But the culture of voter fraud remains in Mexico's popular lexicon, with terms like "casilla madrugadora" (a polling place that opens early so certain people can vote without documents); "raton loco" (crazy mouse, or a voter with many credentials who is able to vote several times); and "operacion tamal" (taking voters to breakfast in exchange for votes).
Today different methods are required. Election fraud, now cybernetic, only needs to be used when manipulation doesn't work. On July 2, Mexican television quickly began broadcasting partial results that favored Calderon. PAN, with the support of PRI, demanded that its victory be recognized "immediately." However, Lopez Obrador denounced the disappearance of some 2.5 million ballots. The Federal Elections Institute then recognized its "error." But it wasn't enough to overturn Lopez Obrador's slim electoral defeat by less than one percentage point. Although he is threatening to challenge the results, analysts don't believe he will succeed.
In California, many Mexican nationals have expressed their disillusion over Mexico's Federal Elections Institute and other institutions. They are no longer optimistic about the future of Mexico, which is more divided than ever. Although it's a different party, PAN has shown itself to be the natural heir of the PRI.
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July 11, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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