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News :: Politics
The Telenovela Continues: Much Drama and Confusion in the Wake of Mexican Election
24 Jul 2006
“The US wants (conservative Felipe) Calderon to win, so he will win,” laughed the owner of a mountain bike rental outfit in the same city, adding that he didn’t want populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to triumph because “he’s crazy” and “he’s just like (Venezuelan president Hugo) Chavez.”
The Telenovela Continues: Much Drama and Confusion in the Wake of Mexican Election

By Kari Lydersen
Infoshop News (
July 19, 2006

“It doesn’t matter, whoever wins it’s all the same,” said a shopkeeper and tourism promoter in the Pacific coast city of Puerto Vallarta.

“The US wants (conservative Felipe) Calderon to win, so he will win,” laughed the owner of a mountain bike rental outfit in the same city, adding that he didn’t want populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to triumph because “he’s crazy” and “he’s just like (Venezuelan president Hugo) Chavez.”

These sentiments were common refrains in the lead-up and aftermath of Mexico’s July 2 presidential elections. The final vote tabulation showed conservative PAN candidate Calderon beating populist PRD candidate Lopez Obrador by 0.6 percent (35.88 percent to 35.31), with only 244,000 votes out of 41 million cast separating them. A final ruling from the country’s supreme electoral council (called TRIFE or TEPJF) will be announced by September 6. Lopez Obrador’s camp is calling for a complete recount of the ballots, a move which it is unclear whether the TRIFE is legally authorized to make without annulling and re-doing the election.

“If Obrador gets a recount, the legal battle gets a whole lot more intense,” said Michael Lettieri, a research fellow with the Council on Hemispheric Affairs who covered the election from Mexico. “The PAN has no intention of backing down, and the legal team they’d be capable of mounting would be impressive. If it goes to the Supreme Court it could be a huge mess.”

Mexico-based independent journalist and author John Ross thinks a recount is possible, since he describes the seven-judge non-partisan TRIFE as “a quirky kind of independent panel.”

“This is the last go round for the judges,” who are at the end of their 10-year term, he said. “They don’t have anything to lose. They have annulled elections, ordered recounts and done independent stuff in the past even when political parties tried to put pressure on them.”

Most agree the presidential contest was cleaner than elections of Mexico past, like 1988 when it is widely believed the election was stolen from leftist Cuauhtemoc Cardenas through a “computer crash,” and 1994 with the assassination of PRI candidate Donaldo Colosio. But the election was nonetheless characterized by dirty campaigning that evoked cynicism and disgust in the populace; allegations of institutional bias and instances of fraud; and the shadow of US influence, not through direct intervention but rather through Mexico’s economic dependency on its northern neighbor.

Abstention in the election was about 41 percent, with many feeling so disillusioned that they didn’t vote at all. Tom Hansen, director of the Mexico Solidarity Network and a doctoral student in Mexico City, said that in 50 interviews with taxi drivers in Chiapas and Oaxaca, “whatever their ultimate choice, without exception they began the conversation by saying that all politicians are crooks and sin verguenzas (shameless), and if they were voting, they would be voting for the lesser of two evils.”

A year ago, former Mexico City mayor Lopez Obrador, also known as “Peje” or AMLO, was the darling of the Mexican people, with sky-high approval ratings and much public sympathy because of the ruling PAN’s clumsy attempt to knock him off the ballot with an obscure criminal charge. But during the six-month campaign season, the race developed into a tight match between Lopez Obrador, Calderon and even PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo, who ended up a distant third with only 22 percent of the vote.

Calderon’s camp went all out to portray Lopez Obrador as a fiscally irresponsible, anti-American leftist and friend of Chavez and Fidel Castro, a depiction which independent analysts say is far from the truth. Lopez Obrador is known for promoting social programs and aiding the poor, but he is also relatively conciliatory toward big business. Among other things, the PAN ran TV ads proclaiming Lopez Obrador “a danger to Mexico;” the ads were eventually banned by IFE.

“You would see Lopez Obrador’s mug and then it would cut to Chavez or (Zapatista leader) Subcomandante Marcos or a lynching that happened in the southern part of the city several years ago and then it would come up with the word ‘Danger,’” said Ross. “Sometimes those ran four times during one commercial break.”

“Those ads couldn’t have been more outrageous,” said Lettieri. “They were completely unevidenced, shameful fear-mongering. And the sad part is they were devastatingly effective. There was a large undecided population. The incessant repetition of ‘Lopez Obrador is Chavez’ worked to plant a seed of doubt.”

The US administration’s antipathy toward Chavez is well known, and many Mexican voters likely feared alienation from the US if Lopez Obrador were to win. With about 85 percent of Mexican exports heading to US markets; a hoped-for immigration agreement with the US pending and remittances from immigrants in the US making up a huge part of the Mexican economy, the Bush administration only needed to make its support of Calderon known to influence the election. Lettieri thinks this was a major reason for Lopez Obrador’s plummeting support between spring 2005 and the election.

“Before people started getting invested in the election, it was very easy to jump on the Lopez Obrador bandwagon,” he said. “If voters saw Lopez Obrador as a radical who wasn’t going to get along with Washington, they probably voted for Calderon, which was a safe choice.”
Lettieri noted that in general, Calderon ran a “very US-style media campaign,” compared to Lopez Obrador’s less media-savvy campaign which saw him traversing the countryside for 300 community appearances.

“US-style campaigns are spreading across Latin America, on both sides (of the political spectrum),” said Lettieri. “But Lopez Obrador was the antithesis of that. His was a very grassroots campaign.”

The first ballot count announced by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) showed Calderon solidly in the lead and mysteriously left out about three million ballots from areas that favored Lopez Obrador. This bolstered allegations of IFE’s pro-PAN bias; and brought up to half a million Lopez Obrador supporters into Mexico City’s zocalo in protest. Lopez Obrador has continued to call for nonviolent civic demonstrations nationwide in favor of his Coalicion Por el Bien de Todos (“Coalition for the good of all,” including the PRD, Labor Party and Convergence Party).

“The practices we saw in this electoral process were sophisticated but they represent the same defrauding we have always seen,” Lopez Obrador was quoted as saying.

Currently TRIFE is recounting ballot boxes that show evidence of tampering or irregularities. It remains to be seen how they will deal with Lopez Obrador’s call for a full recount.

While international observers and independent analysts have reported the election was clean, Lopez Obrador’s party has lodged formal complaints of fraud with TRIFE and has documented some eyebrow-raising incidents. Citizens calling an 800 number set up by the PRD reported ballot boxes stuffed and dumped and PAN voters bussed to the polls. And the Mexico Solidarity Network reported that in 781 precincts, the vote totals exceeded the number of registered voters.

“It was a fraudulent election,” Ross said bluntly, comparing it to Cardenas’s 1988 defeat.

Lopez Obrador also complained during the campaign of television ads by private companies that violated campaign regulations. These included spots by the Jumex juice company and Sabritos potato chip company which used a blue background – the PAN’s color – and seemed clearly crafted as follow-ups to previously-run PAN TV ads.

Lopez Obrador also alleges that President Fox actively supported Calderon, in violation of prohibitions against the president participating in the campaign. And a report by the Mexico Solidarity Network also noted that Mexicans received unsolicited text and phone messages the night before the election telling them to vote for Calderon; even though campaigning officially ended the Wednesday before the Sunday election.

Much was made of the north-south divide in the results, with the poorer, more heavily indigenous south generally going for Lopez Obrador and the better-off north going for Calderon. But Hansen of the Mexico Solidarity Network thinks that bi-polarity was over-simplified.

“The real winner was ‘I don’t trust any of these crooks,’” he said. “Even in the northern states where Calderon won overwhelmingly, he hardly ever took more than 50 percent of the votes. In DF (Mexico City) where Peje won overwhelmingly, he didn’t win 50 percent of the vote. From the perspective of the people who live there, the blue-yellow (PAN-PRD) division is something that shows up nicely on a map, but doesn’t explain the many nuances of political struggle that happen at the local and regional level.”

These struggles include the “Otra Campana” of Zapatista leader Subcomandante Marcos and several instances of uprisings and bloody repression in the two months proceeding the election, which show that strong arm tactics in Mexico are far from a thing of the past. On May 4 at least one person was killed and scores were imprisoned by police in Atenco, the municipality near Mexico City where there have been ongoing struggles over land. The conflict was sparked by the eviction of unlicensed flower vendors from a market. And on June 14, tens of thousands of striking teachers who were carrying out a planton (encampment protest) in Oaxaca City were attacked with rubber bullets and tear gas. Both sides took hostages; teachers allege they were beaten and raped by police while detained. Two steelworkers were also recently killed during a strike in Michoacan. Ross thinks these incidents worked to Calderon’s advantage.

“With these three events, there was a feeling that social unrest is reaching some cresting level, and the forces of repression ought to be brought in to quell things,” he said. “I think it served Calderon’s purposes because it created this atmosphere of fear, and only Calderon with the mano duro (iron fist) could calm things down.”

He thinks the demonstration that Lopez Obrador has called for the Mexico City zocalo on July 30 will draw 1.5 million people, which would make it the biggest in the country’s history.

“The demonstrations are growing exponentially,” he said. “Lopez Obrador hopes that will impress on the seven judges (of TRIFE) that this is a historic moment.”


Kari Lydersen is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the
Washington Post, In These Times, LiP Magazine, Clamor, and The New Standard.

Additional articles by Kari Lydersen at Infoshop News:

* Bikers and Bear Butte
* Behind Closed Doors: Bringing Sex Workers’ Struggles into the Open
* Long, Hard Days and Low Pay for Immigrants Rebuilding from Katrina
* Building on Common Ground: New Orleans Activist Group Provides an
* Katrina's Environmental Devastation Adds to a Legacy of
Environmental Racism
* Don't Eat That Fish! More Mercury Will be the Legacy of New
Coal-Burning Plants

Infoshop News is a popular independent news site, online since 1997 and
now with over 20,000 articles and editorials in its archives. Infoshop
News is a news aggregator, independent news syndicate, forum, and
publisher of original investigative journalism.

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