Huge Political Crisis Rocks Country

A poll by the conservative daily Reforma indicated that 65 percent of Mexico City residents feel fraud was committed and that all votes should be recounted. (Photo: STR / AFP-Getty Images)

Following presidential elections widely viewed as marred by fraud, Mexico's political crisis not only shows no signs of being resolved, but in fact is intensifying almost daily.

In the six weeks since the July 2 presidential elections, two sides have squared off. On one side are the federal government, its electoral authorities, and the conservative National Action Party (P.A.N.) and its candidate Felipe Calderón, defending their razor-thin 0.6 percent margin of victory as the legitimate election results. On the other side are the For the Good of All coalition headed by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (P.R.D.), its candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO) and the social sectors and mass organizations of most of the left and progressive movements.

Given the close vote and AMLO's charges of electoral fraud, a partial recount of 9 percent of the country's 131,000 polling stations was ordered by the Federal Electoral Tribunal. AMLO and his supporters, however, have been demanding a 100 percent recount. The recount, which began on Aug. 9, has not resolved the dispute. The AMLO forces charge serious discrepancies, even on the basis of the small 9 percent sample, among them:

  • In 43 percent of the sample, Calderón had been accredited with more votes than he actually received, lowering his total number of votes by 13,500. This was 5,000 percent more votes than AMLO lost in the recount.

  • In 65 percent of the recounted polling stations, there were either more ballots deposited than there were voters or more voters than there were corresponding ballots. In Mexico, control of the paper ballots is extremely strict. In the 9 percent of the polling stations that were recounted, these discrepancies involved 120,000 ballots — half the difference between the two candidates nationwide across all the polling stations.

  • More than 30 percent of the supposedly sealed ballot boxes had been opened after the elections, raising the specter that their contents were altered.

With the official difference being about two votes per ballot box, AMLO has insisted on a full recount and nullifying results in the 7,600 polling stations of the 9 percent sample that had discrepancies. If the polling stations showing too many or too few ballots in the partial recount were to be annulled, AMLO would win the elections.

While the evidence of fraud is circumstantial, it is also strong and, given Mexico's tradition of fraudulent elections, AMLO's charges are considered by many to be credible. A poll by the conservative daily Reforma indicated that 65 percent of Mexico City residents feel fraud was committed and that all votes should be recounted.

The P.R.D. also charges that Mexican electoral law was violated prior to election day by incumbent President Vicente Fox's support for Calderón's campaign, by a particularly vicious media campaign against AMLO (attempting to tie him to Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez), and by business associations illegally placing advertisements on television implicitly attacking the P.R.D. candidate.

Although electoral authorities often forced an end to such practices, the damage had already been done and the punishment was so ridiculously minimal that there was no deterrent to further infractions.

On Aug. 18, a video was played on Mexican television demonstrating the existence of a plot against AMLO involving top-level government officials, P.A.N. leaders, and Argentine-Mexican businessperson Carlos Ahumada, who is under investigation for fraud committed against the Mexico City administration. The City Prosecutor's Office announced it would file penal charges against federal government officials who protected or helped Ahumada.

In addition to myriad legal challenges, the P.R.D. and AMLO have waged a mass campaign in the streets demanding a full recount. Demonstrations take place on an almost daily basis. On July 30, up to 2.4 million people participated in the largest demonstration in Mexico's history.

While the P.R.D. and the junior partners in its electoral coalition make no claims to be socialist or revolutionary, they have nonetheless mounted a strong campaign against electoral fraud and have refused to "negotiate" a solution with the national government.

Since July 30, thousands of demonstrators have been camped out in Mexico City's central square and an eight-kilometer stretch along Reforma Avenue, a main city artery. Federal police have cordoned off the area around parliament with tanks. All of this has considerably exacerbated the city's already nightmarish traffic.

Besides the continuing occupation of downtown Mexico City, thousands of López Obrador supporters are also engaged in daily acts of civil resistance.

The P.A.N. and business associations have called on the Mexico City government — which is headed by the P.R.D. — to evict the protesters, however local officials have refused. The mass media has waged a campaign against the protests, attempting to whip up a backlash among middle class residents inconvenienced by the mammoth traffic jams.

As a next step, AMLO has called for the formation of the National Democratic Convention on Sept. 16 (Independence Day) to unite grassroots and social organizations behind a program not just centered on electoral democracy, but also addressing the country's social problems.

Many far left and social organizations that didn't participate in AMLO's campaign are involved in the anti-fraud protests. Along the eight-kilometer stretch of encampments, a wide array of neighborhood associations, unions, student groups, and political organizations can be found.

Unfortunately, the Other Campaign, an initiative launched by the Zapatista National Liberation Army and headed by the charismatic Subcommander Marcos, while condemning the fraud, has abstained from the mass demonstrations. During the election campaign, the Other Campaign centered most of its fire on AMLO and the obvious deficiencies in the P.R.D.'s program and methods. Some organizations that participated in the Other Campaign are, however, involved in the anti-fraud protests.

If Calderón is declared the victor by the Federal Electoral Tribunal on Aug. 31 — which most view as the likely outcome — from the word go the new government will face a bitterly divided country, with major sectors of the population questioning the government's legitimacy and huge and powerful mass movements that consider it their declared adversary.

Major battles are clearly on the horizon in Mexico.

From Green Left Weekly.