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2006-07-07

Calderon Declared Victor in Disputed Mexico Race; Lopez Obrador Calls for Mass Rally

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Mexico’s electoral commission has announced that conservative candidate Felipe Calderon has won the presidential election with a razor-thin victory. His populist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he will challenge the result in the courts. We go to Mexico City for a report. [includes rush transcript]

Mexico’s electoral commission has announced that conservative candidate Felipe Calderon has won the presidential election with a razor-thin victory. His populist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he will challenge the result in the courts and is urging his supporters to attend a large rally on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Calderon said he will take office as president and vowed to work for all Mexicans.

  • Felipe Calderon: "Friends, Mexicans, the contest is behind us. Now is the hour for unity and agreements between Mexicans has arrived. I urge you towards that end, to work for Mexico, to work with passion and valor for the Mexico that our children deserve. Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!"

The final results of the race came after electoral officials recounted ballot tallies from Sunday’s vote. The recount showed that Calderon won the presidency by the closest margin in Mexico’s history–around two-hundred-twenty-thousand votes of forty-one million cast–that comes to just over half a percentage point.

Preliminary results after Sunday’s election had given a slight lead to Calderon but Lopez Obrador refused to concede citing electoral fraud and demanded a recount. Lopez Obrador then took the lead as the verification process started, only for Calderon to pull slightly ahead as the very last results came in. Lopez Obrador is now repeating his demand for ballot-by-ballot recount of the vote.

  • Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: "We are going to the Federal Electoral Tribunal with the same demand–for the votes to be counted because we can not accept those results. We cannot recognize or accept those results. There are many irregularities."

Once the Federal Electoral Institute announces the official result, candidates have four days to lodge a legal complaint with the electoral court. The Federal Electoral Tribunal then has until early September to certify the winner.

  • Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program at the International Relations Center. She has lived in Mexico many years and has published numerous articles on social and political issues in the country.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mexico’s electoral commission has announced that conservative candidate Felipe Calderon has won the presidential election with a razor-thin victory. His populist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says he will challenge the result in the courts and is urging his supporters to attend a large rally on Saturday in Mexico City. But Calderon said he will take office as president, and he vowed to work for all Mexicans.

FELIPE CALDERON: Friends, Mexicans, the contest is behind us. Now is the hour for unity, and agreements between Mexicans has arrived. I urge you towards that end, to work for Mexico, to work with passion and valor for the Mexico that our children deserve. Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!

AMY GOODMAN: The final results of the race came after electoral officials recounted ballot tallies from Sunday’s vote. The recount shows that Calderon won the presidency by the closest margin in Mexico’s history, around 220,000 votes of 41 million cast. That comes to just over half a percentage point. Preliminary results after Sunday’s election had given a slight lead to Calderon, but Lopez Obrador refused to concede, citing elector fraud, and has demanded a recount. Lopez Obrador then took the lead, as the verification process started, only for Calderon to pull slightly ahead as the very last results came in. Lopez Obrador is now repeating his demand for ballot-by-ballot recount of the vote.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR: We are going to the Federal Electoral Tribunal with the same demand, for the votes to be counted, because we can not accept those results. We cannot recognize or accept those results. There are many irregularities.

AMY GOODMAN: Once the Federal Electoral Institute announces the official result, candidates have four days to lodge a legal complaint with the electoral court. The Federal Electoral Tribunal then has until early September to certify the winner.

We go now to Mexico City to speak with Laura Carlsen. She’s director of the Americas Program at the International Relations Center. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Laura.

LAURA CARLSEN: Thank you, Amy, for the opportunity to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk about the results that have been announced?

LAURA CARLSEN: Yeah, it’s been a long week for everyone here, as you can imagine. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride. The results that were announced, as you mentioned, were just over half of one percent. Even before going into this electoral process, people knew that this was going to be a very close race. There were already doubts about the impartiality of the Electoral Institute and about some of the things that had gone before, especially the obvious intervention of the federal government in the elections, which is prohibited under electoral law, and the use of some of the social programs to coerce or to buy votes, especially in the countryside.

The process on Wednesday is going through the tally sheets, as you mentioned, but they’re not necessarily open to count the ballots to make sure that the tally sheets have been done correctly. So the demands that Lopez Obrador has put forward now, that goes straight to the electoral court, which is a seven-judge body that decides on these matters, is to precisely count those ballots and not just add up the tally sheets. The reasoning behind this is that there have been irregularities. He’s avoided the use of the word "fraud," although of course many people are using it, and that the only way to dispel doubts at this point in the process is to have a full recount that will clearly show what the real balloting was.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In terms of the official count that did occur in the last — in the midweek, there were instances where some ballot boxes were opened, and generally speaking, the counts, the actual counts, there improved the numbers for Lopez Obrador, didn’t they, for the most part?

LAURA CARLSEN: Yes, that’s exactly right. The ones that were opened, according to these very strict rules that the Federal Elections Institute has for which ones you open or not, they did have mistakes in them. And those mistakes generally did favor Felipe Calderon. This will be one of the — certainly one of the arguments that the group of lawyers of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will put forward when they ask the court to review the matter, because they’re saying that not only there are mistakes, but these mistakes tend to have a tendency to favor the rightwing candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Carlsen, can you go back in time to 1988, and then move forward to put this in a context?

LAURA CARLSEN: Many people are talking about 1988. In 1988, what happened, it was the first time that the left had participated in a major way in the election. The precursor to Lopez Obrador’s party, the party the Democratic Revolution, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was the candidate of the center-left for the Democratic Front. What happened on elections day was we began to get results that he was taking the lead in the election. The next thing we know is that the government announces that the computer system has crashed, and lo and behold, when the computer system comes back up again, the winner is the official party candidate, Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

It took many demonstrations and cost the lives of many people before in 1991, two years later, almost three years later, the ruling party, the PRI, and the rightwing party, Calderon’s National Action Party, voted to destroy the evidence, and there was never a real count of that year.

This is very present in Mexican memory. Mexico has a much longer historical memory than the United States, which is notorious for having a short one, so many people are talking about 1988, and they’re determined that it not happen again. This is one of the reasons why we want — the people that are demanding a full recount are saying that it has to happen in order not to return to these patterns of fraud of the past.

AMY GOODMAN: The Federal Election Institute came out of that?

LAURA CARLSEN: Yes, most of the Electoral Institute, not only the Federal Electoral Institute, but also this court system and many of the rules that Mexico now has to regulate the elections, came out of that in an attempt to avoid it ever happening again. And they’ve developed since then, but they continue to be very weak.

The Federal Electoral Institute was slow in applying many of its own rules during this period, particularly there’s a rule against smear campaigns. Basically the rule says that you have to say something positive about your own platform and not just attack the opponent, which was characteristic of the campaign of fear that was orchestrated by Felipe Calderon against Lopez Obrador. In fact, the slogan was "Lopez Obrador is a danger to Mexico." And it took months for the Elections Institute to rule that illegal. The same with the intervention of President Fox in the elections.

So there are some rules that are good. In some ways, some of them are more advanced than the United States. But they have not been enforced evenly, and they haven’t been enough, especially with this experience that we’ve had since July 2 to dispel the doubts in the system.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I would like to ask you, in reviewing some of the returns yesterday that were coming in from Mexico, one of the things that struck me was the enormous decline of the PRI, which for 70 years basically was the ruling party in Mexico. And it seemed that while the conservative PAN actually dropped in presidential votes compared percentage-wise, compared to six years ago for Vicente Fox, really the PRD is in the ascendancy politically and that it appears that large numbers of PRI voters, who are voting for the PRI locally, went for Lopez Obrador for president, because the drop-off of the PRI vote seemed to go much more at the presidential level for the PRD than it did for the PAN. So regardless, it seems to me, of whatever happens in this election, it is clear that the political polarization in Mexican society is continuing. As the PRI declines, the two parties, especially the PRD, seem to be picking up support.

LAURA CARLSEN: Yes, I think that’s exactly right. The political map of Mexico has undoubtedly changed with this election, and it’s probably changed permanently. The PRI suffered a lot of division. Right before the election, there was a serious internal split. There was another party registered that took away part of the vote. And it will have to go through now a complete change of leadership and sort of a soul searching, if it intends to survive as a party.

Much of that vote was picked up by the PRD, and this has to do with the polarization you’re talking about. Mexico has become a country that’s so economically polarized between the rich and the poor, particularly since the free market economy has been the basis for the economic model and NAFTA came into effect in 1994, that that inevitably spills into politics.

All the demographics on the vote are not in yet, but it’s quite clear that people with less than three minimum wages, which is only approximately $15 a day, and people in the countryside, which has been very heavily hit by free trade policies, voted overwhelmingly for Lopez Obrador, despite some evidence of coercion in those regions.

And on the other hand, you have a very small group of wealthy people who were openly supporting Calderon. The business council played a major role in that campaign of fear that I mentioned against Lopez Obrador. There were threats that the markets would drop and that the economy would collapse if he became president. They’re doing it again right now, accusing him of causing instability for filing the challenge to the elections. So there’s a polarization that’s not going to go away, no matter what happens.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Laura Carlsen, who is with the International Relations Center, has lived in Mexico for many years. El Universal, the newspaper in Mexico, is reporting that ten ballot boxes in a polling station report were found in a garbage dump in a poor neighborhood of Mexico City. Do you know about this report and others like it?

LAURA CARLSEN: There have been several reports of that. This is the kind of fraud that Mexico used to see during the old days of the PRI. It’s certainly not unheard of, and it’s another one of the things that’s causing people to think or to be concerned that this election might have taken the country back to some of those old practices. Right now, many people in the PRD and reporters, investigators, are starting to go into some of those allegations and investigate what’s happening.

At the rally, which he’s called an informative assembly, called for Saturday in Mexico’s Central Plaza, Lopez Obrador has vowed to present to the public some of the evidence that will be given to the courts as proof that there needs to be either a full recount or an annulment of the elections. So we anticipate that some of that evidence will be coming forth in the next few days.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in terms of that mass mobilization, it’s received widespread criticism in the U.S. media here, as Lopez Obrador exhibiting some sour grapes by not accepting the results. But in Mexico, there’s a long history of that, isn’t there, of voters mobilizing when they feel that there is something questionable about an election result?

LAURA CARLSEN: There is. Of course, that was what happened in 1988. And it’s happened — the elections have actually been annulled because of protests in the state of Tabasco, for example, in the year 2000. The coverage that I’ve been seeing through the New York Times today, for example, and others, I think, is very unfair.

What he’s called for is not a show of strength in the Zocalo, although in many ways it will indicate the kind of support he has, but, as I say, an informative assembly. And he’s been very, very careful to make it clear that the idea is not to take the resolution of this problem to the streets, but to begin to talk to supporters about what comes next and to keep it within the legal channels.

The image of Lopez Obrador that’s been painted throughout this period of the elections as a rabble-rouser has been overblown. And he’s faced, himself, as a candidate in Tabasco, widespread fraud that was eventually recognized by the government. But at this point, there’s no indication whatsoever that he would abandon legal channels and try to take this to the street and cause widespread unrest.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Carlsen, I want to thank you very much for being with us. We’ll certainly follow events as they unfold this weekend. Laura Carlsen, with the International Relations Center, has lived in Mexico for many years, speaking to us from Mexico City.

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