Mexico: Presidential Election Results Disputed

A member of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) recounts votes in Mexico City. The IFE has until Sunday to announce a winner, but the final outcome might only be decided by the Federal Electoral Tribunal, the final arbiter in electoral disputes, which would render its verdict on Sept. 6. (Photo: Luis Acosta / AFP-Getty Images)

EDITOR'S NOTE: At the time that material for this article was assembled, the countrywide vote tally was 99.2 percent completed.

In what has been described as the most competitive and bitter federal election in the Republic's modern history Mexicans voted on Sunday, July 2 to elect a new president, and also to renew the entire 500-seat Camara de Diputados (equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives), and half of the 128-seat Senate. Significant problems have already arisen as presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Revolutionary Democratic Party has refused to accept election results that showed him losing narrowly to conservative National Action Party candidate, Felipe Calderon.

France's financial news site, (July 6) reported: "Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday demanded a complete recount of votes from Sunday's presidential election and said he'll challenge the results at the Federal Electoral Tribunal. An official tally of the votes, which started Wednesday morning and was 99 percent complete early Thursday, showed conservative Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, ahead with 35.76 percent of the vote, while Lopez Obrador had 35.43 percent. Lopez Obrador, of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, criticized the Federal Electoral Institute, which he said had hurried the official vote tally, completing it in 24 hours when it had until Sunday to do so. Lopez Obrador called supporters to the capital's main square on Saturday afternoon, where he said he will present a detailed report on the election."

According to the U.K.'s BBC (July 6): "Mr. Lopez Obrador said he would appeal to the courts, and urged his supporters to rally this weekend in Mexico City. The results came after electoral officials worked around the clock to verify ballots from the July 2 poll. Mr. Lopez Obrador's announcement came after the lead swung back and forth between the two men and was narrowed down to just a few thousand votes. Preliminary results after Sunday's election gave the lead to Mr. Calderon but Mr. Obrador has refused to give up and is repeating his demand that there is a ballot-by-ballot recount of the 41 million votes. 'We are going to the Federal Electoral Tribunal with the same demand — that the votes be counted — because we cannot accept these results,' he said. Once the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announces the official result, candidates have four days to lodge a legal complaint with the electoral tribunal. The successor to President Vicente Fox is due to be inaugurated on December 1."

Resolving the dispute may be a lengthy process, as reported by Reuters Canada (July 6): "He [Lopez Obrador] said he would take his complaints to Mexico's highest electoral court, which means disputes over who won Sunday's vote could drag on until early September. The leftist's election campaign chief, Jesus Ortega, said Lopez Obrador would ask the court for a new count of every vote, not just tally sheets. Preliminary results showed Calderon, a former energy minister, ahead of the leftist by 0.6 percentage points. The recount, which was nearly finished on Thursday morning, had Calderon with an even slimmer advantage."

Citing the most recent results, the U.K.'s Guardian Unlimited (July 6), noted: "With some 99.2 percent of the vote tallies counted after Sunday's election, Calderon of the National Action Party had 35.77 percent compared to 35.42 percent for Lopez Obrador of Democratic Revolution. About 150,000 votes out of more than 41 million cast separated the two."

Some news sources were already calling the election for Calderon. Australia's Sydney Morning Herald (July 6) stated: "Mexico's conservative presidential candidate Felipe Calderon headed for a razor-thin election victory yesterday although his leftist rival could still fight the result in the courts and on the streets. A smiling Calderon led supporters in a noisy party at the ruling National Action Party offices and immediately called on his adversaries to forget an ugly and fiercely contested election that has plunged Mexico into a political crisis. 'If the contest is behind us, our differences are behind us. Now is the hour for unity and agreements between Mexicans,' said Calderon, a pro-U.S. former energy minister."

Noting the high stakes surrounding the election results, Australia's The Age (July 3) said: "A fight similar to the one that erupted after the U.S. presidential election in 2000 would spook Mexico's financial markets, which are already nervous about Lopez Obrador's economic policies. … Lopez Obrador, 52, won voter support with promises to end two decades of free-market reforms and pull millions out of poverty with welfare benefits and new jobs in ambitious infrastructure projects. 'Lopez Obrador is the only one who can bring a new Mexican revolution where the poor are the ones who win,' said Amalia Rodriguez, a 19-year-old student in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador was the red-hot favorite for most of the campaign but Calderon, a former energy minister, closed the gap with aggressive TV ads painting his rival as a danger to Mexico's economic stability and linking him to Venezuela's anti-U.S. firebrand President Hugo Chavez."

On the out-going Mexican president, New Zealand's (July 3) said: "President Vicente Fox took office after a historic election victory in 2000, pledging fast and far-reaching reforms. Hopes ran high but Fox failed to deliver on his promises of rapid economic growth and millions of new jobs, and opposition parties in Congress blocked his economic reform program. He was barred under Mexico's constitution from seeking reelection."

An election analysis by Vladimir Torres in Canada's Embassy (July 5), a foreign-policy newsweekly, posited: "The challenge is how not to succumb to paralysis. And arguably the key player will be the once omnipotent, and now relegated to third political force, PRI. Mexico's current situation both in the international context and domestically seems to demand a national agreement, a widespread consensus, on how to move forward. The two leading candidates presented the electorate with divergent platforms. Finding how to deliver on the key issues they prioritized is imperative.

"Locating the converging points of agreement is easier said than done, when the options are antagonistic, a scenario that might prove more complicated given the divisiveness of Lopez Obrador's rhetoric and his tendency to take the easy crowd-pleasing approach, rather than face the challenges of true leadership. Even if — as it seems — he is not the president-elect, his message generated enough appeal to capture one-third of the vote. What cannot be ignored are the real needs and concerns of Mexico's poorest, as highlighted in his campaign. Social inequalities are an urgent task for a new government. Badly needed re-distributive social policies cannot be postponed. The challenge is how to funnel resources through productive investment and job creation that do not hamper the incipient progress made in terms of competitiveness and productivity."

Veteran political reporter Greg Palast, in the Guardian Unlimited (July 3) cast doubt on the fairness of the Mexican election: "Calderón's election is openly supported by the Bush administration. On the ground in Mexico City, our news team reports accusations from inside the Obrador campaign that operatives of the PAN had access to voter files that are supposed to be the sole property of the nation's electoral commission. We are not surprised. This past Friday, we reported that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had obtained Mexico's voter files under a secret 'counter-terrorism' contract with the database company ChoicePoint of Alpharetta, GA. The FBI's contractor states that following the arrest of ChoicePoint agents by the Mexican government, the company returned or destroyed its files. The firm claims not to have known that collecting this information violated Mexican law. Such files can be useful in challenging a voter's right to cast a ballot or in preventing that vote from counting.

"It is, of course, impossible to know whether the FBI destroyed its own copy of the files of Mexico's voter rolls obtained by ChoicePoint or whether these were then used to illegally assist the Calderon candidacy. The foreign mainstream press has already announced, despite the polling discrepancies, that Mexico's elections were fair and clean, which would be a first for that country where López Obrador's party has seen its candidates defeated by 'blatant fraud' before. The change this time is that the fraud is simply less blatant."

Confirming Palast's view, Brussels-based Europa, the news portal site of the European Union (July 2) carried the following statement by the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner: "I would like to congratulate the Mexican people on the way in which they have conducted the presidential and parliamentary elections. It is my belief that they have reaffirmed their commitment to democracy by the exemplary way in which they turned out to vote.

"Last June, in response to a request by the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) and in the context of the excellent bilateral relations between Mexico and the European Union, I agreed to send an Election Observation Mission to Mexico. I have been informed by the Head of this Mission, MEP Ignacio Salafranca Sanchez-Neyra, that the elections were conducted in an orderly manner in accordance with the principles of democracy.

"We have faith in the Mexican electoral institutions. Our mission highlighted their professionalism, transparency and independence throughout the electoral process. We believe that the Federal Electoral Institute has the means and the capacity to operate openly and responsibly even in the event of conflict. We support the maximum transparency of the electoral process as laid down by Mexican law. I am gratified by the positive role played by the Election Observation Mission, which made a valuable contribution to reinforcing confidence in the electoral process."

However, substantiating the charge that dirty tactics were employed in the bitterly contested election, Switzerland's (July 1) reported: "In an apparent last-ditch attempt to undermine Lopez Obrador, opponents of the leftist briefly sabotaged his election Web site on Friday, writing a bogus letter that showed him planning to launch protests if he does not win on Sunday."

The article further noted: "Roughly 35,000 postal votes have been sent for the first time by Mexicans abroad. While only a fraction of the 10 million Mexicans in the United States applied to vote, those votes could still affect the result."