Mexico, where electoral fraud is a high art form, played a key role in crafting George Bush’s bloody January 30th electoral farce in Iraq.
At the behest of both the White House and the United Nations, President Vicente Fox, once a resolute foe of U.S. aggression in that blasted country, dispatched a pair of former high commissioners of Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), the nation’s maximum election authority, to Baghdad where Jacqueline Peschard and Alfonso Lujambio coached their counterparts on the intricacies of electoral reform despite countless modifications and “reforms”, Mexico’s electoral system remains vulnerable to fraud and manipulation by unscrupulous political parties.
In addition to paving the bomb-lined path to January 30th with civic intentions, Mexico played host to scores of Iraq’s 140,000 election workers who were flown into country for a 15-day nuts and bolts course on such rudiments as registration and vote counting. Because of volatile Sunni objections to the election and relentless attacks by the resistance on Iraqi election workers and their offices, the seminar was held behind locked gates at Military Camp #1 on the western perimeter of the capital where many political prisoners here were once held in Abu Ghraib-like conditions. Security was extremely stringent during the two-week seminar just holding the course here made Mexico a terrorist target contended security experts.
The purportedly high Shia and Kurdish turnouts January 30th drew high praise from Fox during a morning after phone call with Bush January 31st. Bedazzled by Bush’s re-election, Fox, who once ordered Mexico’s representative on the Security Council to vote against the invasion thus triggering two years of bi-lateral unpleasantries with Washington, has become more supportive of the U.S. aggression and, in addition to electoral advisors, there are now Mexican construction workers laboring in Iraq and the sons and daughters of Mexico now constitute the largest foreign fighting force out there in the desert, with 8000 Mexican and Mexican-descent troops in action as part of U.S. combat forces (see BMB #61 next week.)
The Mexican imprint was written all over the recent Iraqi elections. From excruciatingly slow vote counts to polling places switched at the last minute (“el raton loco” or “crazy mouse” it is called here) to the buying of votes for free food rations, 200,000 missing ballots in Mosul to limit the Kurdish vote, thousands of voters’ erased from voting lists (‘razurar’ or ‘razored’ in Mexican electoral parlance), and even electrical blackouts that shut down vote tabulation for hours (crashing computers stole the 1988 presidential elections in Mexico), January 30th must have seemed to Peschard and Lujambio a playback of recent battles back home.
As is the Mexican mode, Iraqi government claims of massive participation (as high as 75%) soon proved extravagant Spain’s El Pais reports election officials are predicting about a 43% turnout, 6.2 million out of 14 million eligible voters. Given 10% turnouts in Mosul and Baghdad, and in lieu of any hard numbers from the independent electoral authority, this seems a more accurate ballpark figure than the pipe dream ciphers the interim government and the State Department are putting out.
While Shia holy cities in the south turned out up to 90% of registered voters, polls didn’t even open in much of the Sunni triangle. Overseas voting by exiles (out-of-country Mexicans also demand such a vote) were ballyhooed as pulling 95% of registered voters but only a fifth of eligible exiles even bothered to register.
“Under Lockdown, Iraqis Hold First Free Election” ironized (however unintentionally) the CNN curtain raiser on election morning. Visuals of frightened flak-jacketed Marines hunkered down behind rolls of razor wire, the long guns of the Bradley Fighting tamks trained on an unseen enemy, the Apache helicopters beating at the sky like Apocalypse Now was yesterday, and nine suicide bombings in Baghdad, a one-day record according to the London Independent’s indomitable Robert Fisk (260 around the country, another one day record), made the Iraqi election look anything but free to most non-U.S. eyes.
The U.S. and Iraqi troops surrounding the heavily fortified polling stations provided one further parallel to vote-taking here – Mexican presidents have been known to send the military into the streets to insure a favorable outcome in highly contested elections.
Crowned by the appearance of a proud, purple-thumbed Iraqi voter at Bush’s State of the Union address, Washington’s spin and distortion of the Iraqi election was a propaganda masterstroke rarely has the complicity of corporate media been made more embarrassingly evident then this past January 30th and its aftermath.
Embedded reporters were escorted to middle class Shia precincts in Baghdad for the obligatory photo op of cheering throngs, purportedly extolling Bush-delivered democracy because of the violence, most reporters were confined to their Baghdad hotels. Arab broadcasting capabilities on the ground were limited by the ban on Al-Jazeera, which has been unable to report from Iraq since last June. Independent journalists who sought to cover the election did so at great personal peril.
One wily freelancer, the intrepid Dahr Jamail, slipped through the barricades without U.S. permission to cover sparsely attended precincts in downtown Baghdad. Most of those standing on line, he later reported, said they had been registered through the Iraqi government’s monthly free food giveaway program, a feature of Saddam’s Iraq that the Occupation has never been able to deconstruct for fear of sparking public riots. Several of those interviewed asserted they had been threatened with cut-off if they did not vote. Making food giveaway programs contingent on delivering votes is a pillar of Mexico’s corrupted electoral system. No wonder Peschard and Lujambio were brought in to train Iraq’s electoral authorities.
Bush needed big numbers in Iraq to blunt persistent criticism of his mad aggression just as he needed them November 2nd to erase the stain of having lost the popular vote in 2000. Big Iraq numbers allows the U.S. president to claim a mandate for his war and immunizes him from opponents’ arguments that it is time to abandon ship. In both ballotings, only the fringe has questioned the legitimacy of the election results. Meanwhile, the White House uses the corporate media as its bullhorn to shout down dissenters and proclaim victory in this year’s new improved model for the War on Terror, the War on Tyranny.
On January 30th, Condoleezza Rice beamed and snarled on the Sunday talk shows as if Nicaragua ’91 had come again, and Bush himself brayed Mission Accomplished for the fifth time to this nation of sheep from the entrails of the Oval Office. The media extravaganza filled a vacuum between the NFL Conference Championships and Superbowl Sunday and was part of the Bushwa blitz that began with the inauguration and ran through the State of the Union address and the Superbowl, a traditional platform for presidents to hype their wars from.
Declaring victory and beating a judicious retreat is an old trick of scoundrels and tyrants when they outstrip their ambitions and meet with stiff resistance from the locals and their allies Saddam did just that in Kuwait and the U.S. likewise in Vietnam. Indeed, Bush might have used the Shia sweep as a pretext for drawing down U.S. troop numbers but with 1500 of his American Boys lost in Iraq, each casualty makes avenging the deaths more obligatory to his political legacy, and Bush is unlikely to see this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get out of harm’s way with minimal punishment as a viable alternative.
Alfonso Lujambio, one of the Mexican advisors the IFE posted to Baghdad, advises the U.S. president that gloating over the big Shia outpouring is probably misplaced. “Remember, the Shias forced this election upon Bush and January 30th was not a victory for him” he told late night Mexican TV news, “this was a vote against the occupation the people voted so that the Americans would have no other excuse and have to leave.” One recent Zogby poll has 69% of all Shias and 82% of the Sunnis demanding an early end to the Occupation. Robert Fisk, the world-weary veteran of decades of Middle East skirmishes, suggests the results show a 100% opposition to the U.S.’s continuing presence. Whether one voted for the Shias or sat out the election with the insurgents, he reasons, Iraq cast a unanimous ballot against the Occupation January 30th.
And while the Shias voted to kick the Yanquis out and take control of the Iraqi state, millions of Kurds were voting to separate themselves from that state a separate referendum passed out with the official ballot in Kurdistan registered a 100% vote for an independent Kurdish homeland.
As they begin their second terms hand in hand (the new Secretary of State reportedly refers to the President as “my husband”), Bush and Rice’s neo-imperialist hubris lead them to reject any historical parallels between Iraq and the U.S. disaster in Vietnam but the January 30th feast of hypocrisy stirred nagging nostalgias.
In 1967, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, fed up with an interminable parade of coups and counter-coups in Saigon, sought to put a democratic patina on his puppets in that year’s “free election” of a new president (the old one having been assassinated.) The ticket of Nguyen Thieu and the killer flyboy Ky was cobbled together to carry the torch of democracy and all other candidates were forced to retire one general, the ignobly-named “Big” Minh was exiled to Hawaii, and others were bought out or chased off or imprisoned. To run up the vote totals, U.S. and Vietnamese military forces bullied villagers caged up in “strategic hamlets” to vote at gunpoint.
The election convinced no one. Months later, the National Liberation Front launched its Tet offensive, briefly taking the U.S. embassy in Saigon and killing over 1300 American troops. Johnson, reading the tealeaves of history and realizing the U.S. was hopelessly trapped in the Vietnam quagmire, bailed and “did not choose to run again.” Bush, although a Texan (albeit a carpetbag one) does not share LBJ’s political acumen.
Whatever the final tally tells us in ten days time (in Mexico this period is traditionally dedicated to cooking the vote), there can be no doubt that the Shias have taken state power in Iraq for the first time since the British installed the Sunnis in Baghdad in 1920.
Victory in Iraq extends Shia majority influence from Iran through Mesopotamia into Syria and Lebanon with sizeable influence in the Gulf States as well (Bahrain is Shia.) The real story of January 30th is that in title at least, the Shias now control a good deal of the world’s petroleum resources, a shift that must certainly worry Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi dynasty Osama Bin Laden is himself a Wahabist whose crusade is to topple the Saudi Royal Family which he accuses of being apostates to this fundamentalist Sunni sect.
Although the Grand Ayatollah Al Sistani, a bearded ancient who seems to exercize mesmerizing powers over the Occupation bosses, could not vote because he is an Iranian citizen raised in the holy city of Qum, he mobilized Shia masses to take power and now he and his Iranian handlers expect to reap the rewards.
Al Sistani has pledged that no cleric will sit in the new secular government which is expected to evolve from the elections, but holding back the political ambitions of the Shia hierarchy will not be easy. January 30th, like November 2nd in the U.S.A., had all the earmarks of a religious revival. “We voted for the triumph of Islam,” a well-dressed Shia businessman told the El Pais correspondent in Basra. “I feel like I’m at a religious feast,” said another outside of a Kerbala voting station. No matter what the U.S. High Command would like the folks back home to believe, the black turbans will be pulling puppet strings in the new legislature. And the Mullahs just across the desert sands in Axis-of-Evil Iran will be pulling theirs.
Whether U.S. Pro-consul John Negroponte, whose Green Zone sanctuary was shattered on election eve by rebel rocketry, is able to mitigate post-electoral Shia exuberance and a thirst for revenge and install a handful of Uncle Tariq-type Sunnis in the national legislature and the new cabinet (but more significantly in the commission that will write the new constitution) in time to blunt a Shia-Sunni civil war, is anyone’s guess. Because of the impressive Shia landslide, the new government will most probably not be headed by ex-Baathist, ex-CIA, Saddam-in-drag tough guy Ayub Alawi as Negroponte and company had anticipated. Nonetheless, a legislature recruited out of Ali Baba’s cave, filled as it is with political gangsters like Chalabi and Pachachi, Talabani and Barzani, looks a lot like déjà vu all over again.
The Iraqi vote taking once again underscored how unreliable a measure of democracy such show elections are. Recent high profile balloting from Ohio to Iraq, has been corrupted by religious hysteria, flagrant fear mongering, out-of-control corporate financing, and vote count flimflam that transform the electoral option from an expression of popular will into a commercial enterprise replete with armies of spin doctors and bag men battling to buy or steal the vote.
Bush’s own re-election, rife as it was with suppression of the Afro-American vote, terror tactics (Mexicans call it “the vote of fear”), and dubious voting mechanisms, hardly validates the U.S.’s self-issued credentials as a paragon of electoral democracy which the whole world is obligated to emulate.
Despite their own blemished record, the Bushites have made “free elections” into a fetish, a totem for Bush’s retooled “War on Tyranny” from the Ukraine (a neo-cold war contest where tons of bucks from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy beat back old line Soviet fraud) to Venezuela (where Jimmy Carter is calling upon the OAS to displace Hugo Chavez although he was overwhelmingly elected and re-elected) to Palestine (where the White House winked at grossly-inflated results that won the presidency for Mahoud Abbas and gave him a free hand to sell off the Palestinian right of return when he sits down with Sharon this week in Egypt.)
In Mexico, which was so vital to buttressing up Bush’s ballot strategy in Iraq and where electoral politics are contaminated beyond clean up, voters went to the polls in three states one Sunday after the presumed Shia landslide.
Six years ago in Guerrero, the left-center Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) lost the governorship of that Pacific state to the once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in an election so redolent with fraud that the evidence free diapers and turkeys, cancelled checks, refrigerators, television sets, “indelible” ink that washed right off was eventually packed up into a mobile “Museum of Fraud” and driven all around the state.
This February 6th, gubernatorial balloting got off with a Baghdad-like bang when three cops and a young bystander were gunned down in Acapulco by unidentified drive-by shooters on election eve. In spite of the gunfire, Guerrero voters, like their Iraqi counterparts, ventured out to vote in about the same numbers (50%) the next morning.
At the end of the day, despite burnt ballot boxes, rampant vote buying, the stabbing of one election official, the stacking of the state electoral commission, and even a ten point “how to commit fraud” booklet issued by the once-ruling PRI, the PRD had carried Guerrero for the first time in its 16 year history, during which hundreds of its militants have been murdered in political vendettas and its candidates repeatedly victimized in stolen elections. In Guerrero, as in Iraq, blood stains the ballot.
JOHN ROSS is at home on the Aztec island of Tenochtitlan nursing a bum back. Pray for him — and buy his latest instant cult classic “Murdered By Capitalism–A Memoir of 150 Years of Life & Death on the U.S. Left“.