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What Democracy Looks Like?

Elections and Lesson from Mexico

by MARY TURCK

As the intensity of internal conflict mounts, Mexico awaits the verdict of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (variously known as the TEPJF or the Trife), and the streets of Mexico City are occupied by encampments of protesters demanding a full recount of the ballots in the July 2 presidential election, "vote by vote, precinct by precinct." The constitution says the seven-judge Trife must complete its work by August 31 and must announce its decision by September 6.

At stake is the outcome of the July 2 presidential election, and perhaps much more. The Federal Election Institute (IFE) declared Felipe Calderón, candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), the winner of the election by 243,000 votes, a razor-thin margin of the 41.5 million votes cast. Supporters of the Democratic Revolutionary Party’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) insist that he won the election, pointing to numerous instances of fraud. Among them: ballot boxes found in garbage dumps, boxes stuffed with additional ballots, tally sheets reporting totals that do not match the number of votes inside the box ­ the list goes on and on.

After two rallies of more than a million people each, AMLO supporters have settled in a well-organized, well-supplied encampment in downtown Mexico City, spilling out from the Zócalo (central square), blocking roads and disrupting daily life in the capital.

Despite evidence of widespread election irregularities, the Trife refused the call for a complete national recount, agreeing only to examine the results in 11,839 of the nation’s 130,000 precincts. That recount was completed in mid-August, though the results have not yet been publicly released. The Mexican daily La Jornada reported conflicting PRD and PAN claims about the results of the recount, with PRD insisting that the Trife had uncovered major problems and PAN dismissing the irregularities as "errorcitos." But La Jornada’s website features videos showing violated ballot boxes and other evidence of fraud from sites across the country. Narco News Bulletin, which has closely followed the election and post-election results, claims it has received information that the Trife’s partial recount showed irregularities sufficient to reverse the results of the election. (Mexico’s Partial Vote Recount Confirms Massive and Systematic Election Fraud, Narco News Bulletin, 8/15/06)

The Trife has several options. First, it could annul the results in specific precincts, based on its examinations. Many results are tainted by "taqueo" (stuffing ballot boxes as if they were tacos) or by "saqueo" (theft of ballots.) In either case, determining the true count for the precinct is impossible, so annulment is the remedy. Annulments of even a portion of the 11,000 recounted precincts could reverse the margin of victory, giving the presidency to AMLO.

Second, the Trife could annul the entire election. It has annulled local and even gubernatorial elections in the past. If it annulled the entire election, Congress would select an interim president to govern and new elections would be scheduled within two years. Since Congress is effectively controlled by the governing PAN party, with the support of the deposed and discredited Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a two-year delay in elections would mean two more years of PAN rule.

Whatever decision the Trife takes, they are not the only actors on the scene. López Obrador has pledged "civil resistance" if the Trife declares in favor of Calderón, beginning on September 1 when President Vicente Fox gives his annual State of the Union address to Congress.

As in the U.S. presidential election in 2000, it seems clear that various kinds of election irregularities (or outright fraud) resulted in the initial award of victory. Unlike the Democratic candidate and party in the United States in 2004, AMLO and his supporters have refused to yield, instead pledging to escalate their campaign of nonviolent civil resistance and to prevent a Calderón presidency.

While the magnitude of Mexico’s electoral fraud may be even greater than the "irregularities" of Florida in 2000, that alone does not explain the militance of the resistance. "Mexico has a revolution every hundred years," say many voices from the street. In 1810, the War of Independence began. The Mexican Revolution came in 1910. Today, millions of voices are raised in protest, peaceful resistance fills the streets of the capital with encampments, the Zapatistas’ La Otra Campaña marches through the countryside and, in Oaxaca, teachers lead a popular revolt against a corrupt and abusive governor.

This may be what a revolution looks like. It may be what democracy looks like. And it may be ­ in a lesson to the citizens of the neighbor to the north ­ what principled resistance to corrupt abuse of power and theft of elections looks like.

MARY TURCK is the editor of Connection to the Americas and WWW.AMERICAS.ORG, for the Resource Center of the Americas, where this article first appeared. She can be reached at: mturck@americas.org