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Another Rigged Vote?

The Big Sham in Mexico

by PAUL IMISON

Mexico City.

Mexico could be forgiven for partying like it’s 2006. Following the election on Sunday, where Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto appeared to win the presidency by a 6.5% margin over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), the result is being hotly contested. Just as in 2006, when he lost by a mere 0.56% to Felipe “drug warrior” Calderon, AMLO demanded a full recount based on evidence of irregularities in no fewer than – wait for it – 113,855 voting booths around the country.

The authority trusted (or not) with clearing up this mess is Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), which on Tuesday granted a partial recount of ballots from 78,000 voting booths, or casillas (54.5% of the total vote). Compare that to the just 3,000 ballots recounted in 2006 when the result was even tighter. The concession was surely an attempt to dampen the mobilization of AMLO’s considerable (and angry) support base that rocked the nation’s streets six years ago – not to mention the rolling thunder of the #YoSoy132 student movement.

It’s the same circumstances, different opponent. In 2006 AMLO was up against right-winger Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) who subsequently went on to start a “Drug War” (of sorts) that has killed ten of thousands of Mexicans in five years. This time, AMLO’s nemesis is Peña Nieto – the slickly-marketed, intellectually-vacuous candidate of the country’s old ruling party and former dictatorship, the PRI.

The result of the recount became clear last night with 95% of the votes counted and no surprise that the song remains the same. Peña Nieto took 38.33% of the vote over AMLO’s 31.43%. The initial result from Monday – which had world leaders popping the champagne corks on Peña’s behalf – was 37.97% versus 31.78%.

Oh, to be in IFE’s shoes, a supposedly autonomous institution, variously viewed by a large section of the population as spineless, elitist, or bent. 71% of Mexicans anticipated some kind of fraud in Sunday’s election. IFE boasted it would carry out “the most transparent election in Mexican history”, but the suspicion grows that the institution effectively exists to ensure that either PRI or PAN – both big business parties – maintain power.

Neither AMLO nor #YoSoy132 is asking for the world. Both have declared they will respect the result if it can be proved that the election was mostly clean and transparent; however, neither IFE nor the PRI has proven any such thing.

Grand Theft Mexico 

Let’s look at the evidence. It starts with plain coercion. Not only did the bias from Mexico’s corporate media in favor of Peña Nieto border on the ridiculous, most notably from TV colossus Televisa – owned by one of the country’s richest men – but vote-buying was rampant. Among numerous scandals, the largest surrounds supermarket chain Soriana – owned by another of the country’s richest men – through which the PRI distributed pre-paid gift cards to would-be voters.

Based on 3,158 surveys, the Civic Alliance group, which reports on cases of electoral abuse in Mexico, concluded that 28.4% of citizens were exposed to at least one experience of vote-buying. 71% of the pressure to vote for a party was in favor of the PRI or its coalition partner the Green Party (PVEM); followed by 17% in favor of the PAN, 9% in favor of AMLO’s Progressive Movement coalition, and 3% for the New Alliance Party.

On Tuesday, the managing director of national daily Milenio grew a conscience and publicly apologized for publishing opinion polls by the agency GEA/Isa, owned by a lifelong PRI supporter and former head of the state oil company PEMEX, which had given Peña Nieto a twenty-point lead for months.

These are tried-and-tested PRI tactics and while illegal are hardly enough to persuade IFE to overturn the result, but evidence of vote-tampering should because that’s precisely what the Federal Electoral Institute is there to prevent. Besides the data presented by AMLO’s Progressive Movement, #YoSoy132 – which maintains a non-partisan stance – announced yesterday that it will upload dozens of videos and hundreds of photos showing examples of fraud at voting booths around the country. These include videos of police in PRI-governed states blatantly threatening and detaining citizens who witnessed and dared to denounce such crimes.

The international “hacktivist” collective Anonymous has also been on the case. They issued a warning to IFE prior to the election that if there were sufficient evidence of abuse, they would hack the server of the Preliminary Election Results Program (PREP) which produced the “quick count” Sunday night, which they did successfully Monday, claiming that millions of votes were tampered with and AMLO won the election by 48.2%.

For what it’s worth, Anonymous said yesterday that in the coming days it will release information on specific individuals involved in the fraud. The group has already done (virtual) battle with Mexico’s drug-trafficking cartels, threatening to publish the names and addresses of politicians linked to the notorious Zetas gang.

“Imposition = Revolution”

The fear of IFE and the Mexican elite is likely to be that this whole damn thing turns into a riot – Arab Spring/Los Indignados/Occupy/even Paraguay-style. The Mexican capital and cities around the country were besieged by (peaceful) protests all spring as it became clear that the corporate media was trying to impose Peña Nieto as the only choice for president. Out of this fury grew the highly-organized and articulate student-led movement #YoSoy132, which many other organizations have since come out to support.

Another major march is set to take place in Mexico City on Saturday and likely to draw hundreds of thousands of people; possibly the biggest anti-Peña protest yet. Following the recount by IFE, AMLO, who was never officially endorsed by the movement, may well mobilize his own National Movement for Regeneration (MORENA) – a civil association distinct from the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) with which he ran – in a replay of the 2006 protests.

That year famously saw up to a million people at one time or another camped out on Mexico City’s Reforma Avenue for two months, plunging one of the world’s largest cities into disarray. We now know that Felipe Calderon – the scorn of the protesters’ fury, who was sworn into office at midnight behind closed doors – wanted to send in the military before advisors talked him out of it.

This year, the protests, which began long before the election, have largely been fueled by social media, which didn’t have such a huge presence six years ago. The protesters are notably – if not exclusively – more middle-class; politically-conscious students from some of Mexico’s top universities whereas AMLO’s movement is largely comprised of people he himself refers to as “those down below”. The student marches are organized by the (democratically-elected) #YoSoy132 leadership and publicized through Facebook and Twitter.

While the heaviest protests have taken place in the liberal bastion of Mexico City, #YoSoy132 has local assemblies nationwide and has even rocked traditional conservative (i.e. PAN) haunts like Guanajuato, Puebla and Morelos.

Move along Now, There’s Nothing to See

And the rest of the world? They’re largely oblivious. Much of the international media presumes Enrique Peña Nieto is the president-elect. Barack Obama called Peña on Monday to congratulate him. The western corporate media – whose governments have massive economic interests in Mexico – have been only marginally critical of the PRI’s clear-as-day attempt to re-impose itself in power by foul play. Compare this to the widespread condemnation by the US and its allies of dodgy-or-not elections in countries like Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The Washington Post ran an otherwise-flattering article Monday describing Peña Nieto as an “enigma” and pointing to his lack of experience on the international stage. This ignores the fact – once again clear as day – that the PRI machinery of 2012 is much the same as it was in the 1990s and that in Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, the heir apparent has shrewd political mentors who enjoyed ample support from Washington.

Many in Mexico view Peña Nieto’s election as simply a way for Salinas – one of the most powerful and well-connected men in the country – to retake power (Mexico’s constitution forbids re-election of political representatives at any level). Cue a neoliberal regime devoted to the same liberalization and privatization of the Mexican economy as the PAN administrations of the past decade. No wonder US, Canadian and European governments are happy.

For the record, voter turnout on Sunday was high (63% nationally), although much lower in parts of the country plagued by violence. Chihuahua, the country’s most dangerous state, saw a 47% turnout, which was lower still in the deadly border city of Ciudad Juarez. Chihuahua has been heavily militarized and wracked by violence by both criminals and security forces since Felipe Calderon declared his “Drug War” in 2006.

Calderon holds the reins until Peña Nieto’s presumed inauguration in December. Whatever chaos unfolds before then vis-a-vis protests or any other form of strife will be his problem to deal with. As another old rival of AMLO, Calderon and the PAN – which took a hammering nationwide at all levels of the elections – have tellingly steered clear of challenging the result.

What was touted as the Mexican Spring – the call by many for Mexicans to “wake up” to the reality of their political elite – looks set to segue into a long, heady summer of resistance. While Mexicans traditionally protest peacefully, the potential for unrest is never far away. Saturday’s “mega-march”, which #YoSoy132 has distanced itself from for precisely that reason, carries the tagline “If there’s imposition, there will be revolution…” It’s purely a metaphor, of course, but outrage is growing as the true extent of the PRI’s fraud becomes apparent.

Paul Imison lives in Mexico. He can be reached at paulimison@hotmail.com