Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mexican election dispute

Election in Dispute, Mexico Braces for Violence
by John Ross

Mexico City

When US voters consider electoral fraud, George W. Bush's questionable victories
in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004 are paradigms of a stolen election. But
here the reference point is the presidential election of 1988 when, on election
night, government officials announced that the "system has fallen," alluding to
the alleged crash of vote-tabulating computers. When the "system" came back up
after a ten-day ellipse, Harvard-educated neo-liberal and fair-trader Carlos
Salinas de Gortari, the candidate of the long-ruling Institutional
Revolutionary Party (PRI), was declared the winner over leftist Cuauhtemoc
Cardenas. Few believed the results and hundreds of Cardenas supporters were
killed in the political violence and street protests that followed.

On Monday, the Mexican electoral system did not collapse--it simply went to
sleep. In a dramatic pronouncement near midnight, Federal Electoral Institute
President Luis Carlos Ugalde called the preliminary count too close to call and
declared that no further results would be available until Wednesday at the
earliest--and perhaps for many weeks to come.

Under the PRI's seven-decade reign, the period between election day and the
official declaration of a winner--always a member of the PRI--was utilized to
cook the final results. Now under the right-wing National Action Party (PAN)
and with outgoing president Vicente Fox calling the shots, the abuse of state
power is once again evident.

Sunday's presidential balloting was perhaps the most consequential election
since the 1910 Mexican revolution. Felipe Calderon, Fox's would-be successor,
stands with the fat cats. His leftist opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador,
often referred to by his initials AMLO, is an unabashed champion of the poor.
Calderon is a fervent believer in neo-liberal globalization and advances
policies that would deepen Mexico's political and economic servility to

Lopez Obrador is demanding renegotiation of the North American Free Trade
Agreement and seeks to strengthen Mexico's ties to Latin America where leftists
in various shades now govern much of the continent--a scenario that Washington
has sought to avoid at all cost. Lopez Obrador is perhaps more ideologically
aligned with Chile's Michelle Bachelet, a free-market "socialist", than he is
with Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chavez, as Calderon and the PAN have often

Even since Lopez Obrador became the front-runner for the presidency in 2006
three years ago, Fox and his accomplices in the PRI (which ran a dismal third
July 2) have tried to disqualify his candidacy and have even sought to bar him
from the ballot; the campaign was dropped after Lopez Obrador put a million
protestors into the streets of Mexico City, a megalopolis of which he was a
wildly popular mayor. Similarly, the Federal Election Institute has exhibited
a striking bias against Lopez Obrador and favored the PAN's Felipe Calderon in
one decision after another. Mexico's two-headed television and radio
monopoly--Televisa and TV Azteca--have tilted towards Calderon from the onset
of the campaign, transmitting the message that Lopez Obrador is a danger to
Mexico in nightly newscasts and an array of "Get AMLO" spots designed by such
carpetbaggers as Fox News comentator Dick Morris and Antonio Sola, hit man for
Spain's former right-wing prime minister Jose Maria Aznar.

Nonetheless, Lopez Obrador went into Election Day with a small lead in reputable
polls; exit polling seems to have confirmed a slender victory, although the
Federal Electoral Institute has been reluctant to discuss the numbers. Whether
Fox, the Electoral Institute and their handlers in Washington will accept Lopez
Obrador's victory is what is likely being discussed behind locked doors at Los
Pinos, Mexico's White House, and the US Embassy on Paseo de Reforma here in
downtown Mexico City.

The similarities to 1988 are positively eerie. On election night, tens of
thousands of Lopez Obrador's supporters gathered in the dark on the great
Zocalo plaza and remembered that terrible time. "Fraude electoral!" they
chanted over and over again and AMLO himself pledged that 2006 would not be a
replay of 1988.

While Fox, the PAN and the business and political classes call for Mexicans to
remain calm until the results are finally known, Lopez Obrador will not have an
easy time containing his supporters if Calderon is declared the winner. On the
morning after Sunday's election, a US reporter out for coffee in the old
quarter of this city spoke with a hotel handyman, a local street sweeper, a
newspaper vender, a cab driver, and two senior citizens like himself. All of
them, with more or less vehemence, considered the election to have been stolen.
"They won't get away with it this time--this isn't 1988," an elderly gentleman
in a straw sombrero rumbled while wolfing down breakfast at the Cafe La Blanca.

Or will they? After the election was stolen from Cardenas in 1988, hundreds of
his followers were gunned down by PRI pistoleros. On election eve 2006, two PRD
poll watchers were shot and killed in conflict-ridden Guerrero state in what
public officials called an "attempted robbery." That is exactly the way the
killing began in 1988.

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