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Democracy in Mexico Part II


There’s much happening in Mexico in the aftermath of the nation’s most contentious election ever, but it began many months before the first vote was cast. The popularity of leftist opposition candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) scared the ruling National Action Party (PAN) enough to get them to try to deny him the right to run for president in the election just concluded. In April, 2005, a commission of four members of the Chamber of Deputies (Mexico’s Congress) held there was sufficient cause to suspect Obrador committed a crime when he ordered the construction of a service road to a hospital ignoring a judge’s order against doing it. Obrador said he was just widening the road and stopped when he learned of the court order. The full Chamber ignored his explanation and then voted to strip him of his government immunity from prosecution so he could be indicted, have to stand trial and be constitutionally barred from holding or running for high office. The transparent scheme didn’t work because the people of Mexico wouldn’t tolerate it and turned out in mass street protests to support him.

That mass support succeeded in getting the ruling PAN to back down from its attempt to keep Obrador off the ballot but not in the shoddy campaign tactics they decided to use against him. Because of his popularity, Obrador was a serious candidate who would likely win easily in a fair election. But there’s nothing fair about Mexican politics where the notions of dirty tricks and hardball tactics could have been invented. From early on in the campaign, the Mexican corporate media and ruling business-friendly right wing parties attacked Obrador viciously as an evil twin of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, falsely accusing him of receiving campaign funds from the Venezuelan President and being guilty of corruption during his time as mayor of Mexico City. The ads also accused him of being a “danger” for Mexico. In addition, government instigated street violence in an attempt to break a teachers strike in Oaxaca and to disrupt events in San Salvador Atenco created tension, stoked fear and were effectively used as political and PR tools to turn enough of the public against Lopez Obrador to erase his once insurmountable lead in the polls to a slim one on election day – an advantage easily overcome with the shenanigans the ruling party had in mind to use to assure its candidate won.

But Lopez Obrador was lucky PAN officials and their conspiratorial Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) allies didn’t intend for him what state officials plotted and pulled off against two other noted state adversaries in the past who paid dearly. General Emiliano Zapata, the Mexican peasant rebel leader who supported agrarian reform and land redistribution in the battles of the Mexican Revolution (a Mexican Simon Bolivar), was assassinated by government troops in 1919. Then in March, 1994, leading opposition candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio met the same fate on the campaign trail in Tijuana. Obrador survived the shabby scheme to keep him off the ballot, was able to run as the opposition candidate, and only paid the price of a defeat at the polls (so far) in an election clearly stolen from him.

At this point Lopez Obrador is not going gentley “into that good night.” Given the clear election irregularities, he’s demanded the ballot boxes be opened and all votes be recounted manually. He has every right to ask for that and more with what already is known about the fraud committed against him. The preliminary vote totals were manipulated to show PAN candidate Felipe Calderon would be the winner, initially 3 million votes were never counted and only in hindsight 2.5 million of them were added to the totals, 900,000 supposedly void, blank and annulled ballots were declared null, discarded and never included in the official totals, 700,000 additional votes disappeared from missing precincts, thousands of voters were denied their franchise in strong Obrador precincts and much more.

In addition, it was learned that Felipe Calderon’s brother-in-law Diego Hildebrando Zavala wrote the vote-counting software, and it’s already been hacked. This new discovery is especially disturbing as whoever controls the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) computer systems can manipulate the vote process, control which votes get counted, which ones don’t, and what the final vote tally will be. The opportunity and temptation for fraud was therefore in the hands of the declared winner’s close family member and ally with every reason to believe he’d take full advantage. Why wouldn’t he and the ruling party as well given the history of Mexican elections and the underhanded and hardball tactics the country’s entrenched power interests are known to use. They’d never be willing to give up what they’ve always had an iron grip on and won’t if they can get away with their scheme. But the way to stop them is with a full, vote-by-vote independently supervised manual recount and do it before any cast, counted or discared votes are manipulated or destroyed. That’s the only antidote for computer fraud as well as to be able to salvage and include in the total as many of the known uncounted and valid discarded votes as possible. It all sounds like Florida, 2000 deja vu all over again, but we know how that one turned out.

Still, Lopez Obrador said he’ll contest the election and demand a full recount. If he follows through on his challenge, he’ll have to await a ruling by the Electoral Tribunal, known as Trife, which has until September 6 to consider his case. The new president takes office on December 1 so it’s possible the electoral challenge will succeed. In the past, Trife has reversed some local elections including one in Obrador’s home district of Tabasco in 2000, but it’s very unlikely to reverse this one given the overwhelming pressure against it which in Mexico may include real and intimidating physical threats officials take very seriously.

The people of Mexico may have other ideas though. As many as 500,000 Obrador supporters (the corporate media lied and reported 100,000) held a mass protest demonstration against the announced election outcome in Mexico City’s huge Zocalo plaza on July 8 to demand a full recount. The huge crowd chanted “No to fraud,” and “You’re not alone,” as Lopez Obrador announced plans for a “national march for democracy” to begin on July 12 in each of Mexico’s 300 election districts, converging in Mexico City on July 16, again in the Zocalo. He also accused President Fox of violating Mexican law that stipulates a president can’t endorse or campaign for a candidate which the PAN did by running government sponsored advertisements touting its achievements. He went on to call President Fox a “traitor to democracy” and said the “stability of the nation” is at risk if a full vote recount isn’t taken. Mr. Obrador also told an assembled news conference “I am going to defend our victory. This isn’t over.” The people of Mexico who support him certainly hope so.

The July 2 elections were also to elect members of Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies. According to the official IFE count on July 7, the PAN won 206 of the 500 seats, followed by For the Good of All coalition consisting of the PRD and smaller Workers Party (PT) and Convergence Party with 160 seats. The Alliance for Mexico comprised of the PRI and small Green Ecological Party of Mexico (PVEM) won 121 seats. An incomplete final count in the Senate projected the PAN with 53 seats, 38 for the PRI coalition, 36 for the PRD coalition and 1 for PANAL.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at [email protected] Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

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