Mexican Elections Mired in Anomalies

For five days following the July 2 presidential elections, Mexico was in the grip of anticipation as the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) labored to tally—or rig—the votes.

On Thursday, July 6, the anticipation passed into a split between relief and outrage. The IFE declared Felipe Calderon of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) the winner by 0.58 percent over center-left Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Lopez Obrador promised to challenge the election results, demand a vote-by-vote recount, and convoke massive demonstrations in Mexico City.

In a divided country, divided opinion comes as little surprise and depending on whom one speaks with, the election was either the cleanest in Mexican history, or victim of the biggest fraud since 1988 when the ruling party staged a bogus computer breakdown to justify turning the election results inside out.

At 11PM on election night, with millions of people transfixed before television screens awaiting news of the first results, the IFE declared the initial "quick count" too close to call, withheld the numbers, and scheduled the official count of polling place totals for the following Wednesday, July 5. A divided country was momentarily unified in exhausted dismay. But that night, disregarding the IFE’s recommendation to hold back from claiming victory, the two leading candidates both declared themselves triumphant, and drove yet another wedge between the two camps.

The following day, the IFE posted unofficial "preliminary" results that showed Calderon, ahead by about 400,000 votes. Within hours, Lopez Obrador denounced a series of major anomalies in the preliminary count, and demanded a vote-by-vote recount.

While hard proof of coordinated fraud has yet to surface, the anomalies more than justify a recount, not to mention a bit of suspicion:

· The IFE left over 3 million votes out of the preliminary count, and neglected to mention this omission until Lopez Obrador pointed it out in a press conference on July 3. When the IFE counted 2.5 million of these missing votes, the majority went to Lopez Obrador. Over a million votes are still missing.

· On July 4, locals found ballot boxes from three precincts won by Lopez Obrador in the trash dump in Nezahuacoyotl, Mexico State.

· In all the states won by the PAN there were over 30,000 more votes for president than senators—as one would expect—but in all the states won by the PRD there were over 300,000 less votes for president than for senators.

· Throughout the tabulation of the preliminary count on July 2, Calderon was in the lead (due to the IFE’s apparently selective publishing of results from PAN strongholds first), but then during the official polling place count on July 5, Lopez Obrador held a 2.5 point lead through the first 70 percent of the count, when his lead strarted to slip bit by bit until Calderon surpassed him at 98 percent of the count. Calderon and Lopez Obrador fought throughout for 71 percent of the total votes. Meanwhile, the other three candidates maintained the same percentage. During the last 15 percent of votes counted, when Calderon and Lopez Obrador fluctuated drastically, switching places, all the other three candidates held the exact same percentages. Two National Autonomous University of Mexico mathematicians called this "cybernetic fraud." (A company owned by Calderon’s brother-in-law designed the IFE’s software.)

· The polling place count caught errors that fit a consistent pattern: PRD votes were shaved in the preliminary count and PAN votes were inflated.

· In Jalisco, the state that gave the highest number of votes to Calderon, observers found anomalies in 290 polling places and estimate that similar anomalies may be found in thousands more.

The PRD said that they have documented irregularities in 50,000 polling places across the country, a third of the total, and will thus file a complaint with the Federal Electoral Tribunal, the highest electoral institution in Mexico, and the final voice on the elections, demanding a complete recount.

Global Exchange’s international electoral observation delegation also called for a vote recount in a press conference on July 5. The observers noted that the sum of multiple, seemingly disparate irregularities could have a major impact in such a tight election, making every effort to achieve maximum transparency necessary. Intellectuals and analysts, including some who are critical of Lopez Obrador, have taken up this call.

Both Calderon and Lopez Obrador have said that they would respect the final results, even if they lost by one vote. The debate now is over which result will be final.

The PAN’s response to the recount demand is crafty. Calderon and other PAN officials have argued that a vote recount would be an insult to the million Mexican citizens who volunteered in polling places across the country on July 2. Recounting vote-by-vote in the presence of observers and representatives of all five political parties to ascertain the true winner of the election, in the strange calculus of the PAN, would be an anti-democratic act, showing a lack of confidence in the citizen volunteers.

Since the president of the IFE, Luis Carlos Ugalde, appeared on national television in a pre-recorded message to the nation at 11PM on election night, the IFE has reiterated the "impeccable, clean and trustworthy" voting process and the IFE’s "impartial," "independent," and "scientific" make-up. Ugalde went on for several minutes in flowery language about how "Mexico has spoken out in favor of Democracy" by making it through the election day without incidents (he did not mention that two PRD poll watchers were shot dead in Guerrero the day before the election) before getting to the grain and announcing the IFE’s decision to withhold the "quick count" results.

Curiously, President Vicente Fox appeared on national television only seconds after Ugalde, also in a pre-recorded message that perfectly paralleled Ugalde’s, saying: Mexico won by electing Democracy (that is, one assumes, by voting without shoot outs, filmed episodes of vote buying, or mass ballot burning); the IFE is impartial and transparent; and neither candidate should pronounce themselves the winner until the IFE announces the official results. Fox also went on and on in typical Baroque language about the triumph of Democracy and the credibility of the IFE.

The paternalistic didacticism of Ugalde and Fox’s speeches belies the social function of their message: to foment the opinion that everything went just fine and soon Mexico will have a president-elect who was chosen by the majority; that is, to create legitimacy rather than describe it.

The IFE has since run paid advertisements in national newspapers, magazines and on national television thanking Mexicans for their great job of voting. Meanwhile most magazines and newspapers run headlines like: "Suspicious election," "IFE: judge complicit," and "Irregularities in 50,000 polling places." The magazine emeequis spread a huge grey question mark across its July 4 cover, while the advertisement on the back cover displays the word gracias sprinkled like confetti above the message: "Thank you Mexico, because of your vote, Mexico lives in democracy. With credibility and trust, Mexico lives in democracy: IFE."

This confusion comes on the heels of the most contested, and by far the dirtiest electoral campaign in Mexican history. For months Felipe Calderon’s campaign ran television advertisements calling Lopez Obrador "a danger for Mexico," and falsely associating him in different ads with a small town lynching of federal police officers and with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. When the PRD finally challenged these ads, the IFE defended them as covered by free speech. The PRD appealed to the tribunal who reversed the IFE’s decision and ordered the adds off the air.

At least two things, amidst all the mess, are clear. First, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that monopolized the Mexican state for 71 years before losing to the PAN in 2000 has been sent reeling. Over 70 percent of voters chose to go another route.

Second, the 70 percent of those looking for something new are split down the middle and the division is deep and rooted in both class and race tensions. In the wealthier, industrial north, the business class ratified the right-wing social and economic model offered by the PAN, while in the poor, largely indigenous and rural south, the downtrodden came out in equal numbers—despite the PAN’s months-long smear campaign leveled against Lopez Obrador—to demand a change in course.

Calderon supporters again and again guide conversations to economics, exhibiting their fixed conviction that a robust, post-NAFTA marketplace is what is most needed to set Mexico on the course to prosperity. Lopez Obrador’s supporters talk about class, exclusion, and corruption. They blame that same post-NAFTA market with leveling hardship down on the country’s poorest and most disadvantaged and call to change the economic model, uproot state corruption, and end human rights abuses (it remains to be seen how much Lopez Obrador is listening to this call, despite his campaign rhetoric).

Juan Manuel Gutten, a 22 year-old student from Monterrey had been standing in line at a special polling place in downtown Mexico City for 5 hours when I spoke to him. Gutten and several friends, all PANistas from northern Mexico, were in town for a bank administration workshop. After asking about the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, of which Gutten had heard nothing, I asked him: "What do you think about the problems facing indigenous communities in Mexico."

"Most of the time," he answered, "the indigenous people, as a result of their lack of education, do not know what path the country should take; they do not understand macroeconomics."

As I wrote down his response in my notebook, a young woman leaned in next to him and asked: "What are you both talking about?"

Gutten responded: "Economics."

Meanwhile, at the Other Campaign

On July 2, about 3,000 members of the Other Campaign marched down Reforma Avenue to the central town square, or Zocalo, in Mexico City, to demand the release of political prisoners taken on May 3 and 4 in Texcoco and San Salvador Atenco. The march—the first ever on Election Day—was energetic and creative, incorporating street theatre, music, and homemade signs and banners, but failed to attract much attention in the streets or in the press.

ImageThe English language press either disregards or misreports the Other Campaign. The Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, and New York Times all falsely claimed that the Other Campaign called for a vote boycott.

"The masked leader," wrote Marion Lloyd in the Houston Chronicle, "who now goes by the pseudonym Delegate Zero, has toured the country since January to rally support for a united leftist front, while urging voters to boycott the elections."

I have followed the Other Campaign on the ground since January, and never once did subcomandante Marcos, a.k.a. Delegate Zero, or anyone else speaking in the name of the Other Campaign, call for a vote boycott. Never once. In fact, on July 1, Marcos defended the right of Other Campaign participants to both vote and join the July 2 march.

The Other Campaign’s call has consistently been: "Vote or don’t vote: organize." Yes, it is nuanced in that it says elections are meaningless for those pursuing deep social change, but that is what they are saying. Yet, no one in the English language mass media reports on this.

Since July 2, Subcomandante Marcos accused the IFE and President Fox of manipulating the vote results in order to steal the election from Lopez Obrador (whom Marcos has skewered in countless opportunities as being a pseudo-leftist). He reiterated his opposition to electoral politics—and his respect for those who have chosen to both vote and organize through the Other Campaign—but said it was still one’s moral responsibility to denounce electoral fraud.

The Other Campaign has national gatherings scheduled for August and September and continues to organize marches and sit-ins in support of the prisoners from Texcoco and Atenco.