Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Elections 2006: Mexico Divided and in Limbo

Image Source: http://www.mexiconews.com.mx/19110.html


The election results of July 2 have not yet been certified by IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral), but a preliminary posting of results (PREP) indicates that Felipe Calderón Hinojoso(PAN:Partido Accion National) holds a slim lead over Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD: Partido Revolucionario Democratica and head of a coalition called la Coalición por El Bien de Todos). With 98.45% of the districts tabulated, Felipe Calderón has 36.38% of the total vote and Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador has 35.34%. He has a lead of about 400,000 votes from among the 40 million ballots cast (a turnout of just under 60%)

The vote certification will, almost certainly, not be routine and it will be contentious. The counselors of IFE (a body of 300) will gather on Wednesday to begin deliberation and certification of the count. IFE also deals with complaints, appeals, protests and has the power to conduct a recount if necessary.


Mexico established IFE with international support in the mid 1990's with the goal of eliminating corruption and manipulation obvious in the 1988 presidential election. Cuauhtemoc Cardenas Solarzano was the standard bearer for a new leftist party that became the PRD, and was definitely leading the 1988 presidential election until election computers mysteriously crashed. When they came back online, Carlos Salinas de Gortari was declared the winner with a solid majority. Salinas de Gortari (PRI: Partido Revolucionario Institucional) carried out a major program of pro-business neo-liberal reform (i.e. free-market policies), successfuly "fast-tracked" NAFTA and dramatically changed the Mexican economy. Elections of 1994 were "cleaner" on the surface since they were conducted under close international scrutiny; but it's also agreed that the PRI bought the election and used both heavy-handed and subtle strategies to corrupt the vote. (See Andres Oppenheimer's 1996 book called Bordering on Chaos)

IFE was created with international cooperation and with enthusiastic participation of many student "leaders" who had been driven underground after the 1968 and 1971 massacres authorized by the PRI. This middle-aged generation of idealists were committed to democratic openness and responsible for the initial creation of the IFE (e.g. José Woldenberg). Canada played a major part in establishing this institution, and chief electoral officer Jean Pierre Kingsley was a prominent consultant and advisor for this project.


IFE distributes campaign funds and sets rigid limits on spending. It even has the power to order advertisements pulled from the air: for instance, negative campaign advertisements linking Andres Manuel López Obrador to Hugo Chavez were ordered off the air. The timing for campaigns, the financing, the verification of candidates and all other matters are regulated by IFE to a much greater degree than elections are regulated in Canada by the Federal Electoral Commission.

IFE oversaw the State elections and Mexico City elections of 1996 where Cuauhtemoc Cardenas was elected mayor. (It was the first time Mexico City had elections for mayor and council since the 1920's). In 2000, the experience gained in the 1996 and 1968 elections allowed IFE to oversee the "cleanest" set of elections in modern Mexican history. Vicente Fox Quesada was elected president and the PRI lost the presidency for the first time in 71 years.

I have been an observer in Mexican elections, and electoral preparation and controls elections are much more stringent and rigid than we are accustomed to seeing in Canada. There is a national voting list containing a small image of the same voting card that every Mexican voter must show at the poll. The card has a picture of the voter, and it must be placed beside the master list before a person is given a ballot. If the picture doesn't match, the individual cannot vote. Ballots are numbered with unique serial numbers, and 1/2 of the ballot is given to the voter to mark in a balloting booth; the stub is scrutinized, the serial number listed beside the voters names and stored in a special box that is sealed after verification. Completed ballots are placed in "transparent boxes". Polling stations votes are tabulated by a local committee selected at random from the voting list, and the count scrutinized by all parties and open to international observers. The sealed boxes are delivered to centres managed by IFE where the local results are verified a second time before counting. By all measures, the process appears to be rigid, efficient clean,— especially in the urban centres.


But in spite of these measures taken by IFE to produce untainted results, most Mexicans continue to mistrust the electoral process. There remains very little public confidence that elections are free of corruption and manipulation. During the past few days, several polls have indicated that many people think that the present election has been fixed. For instance,
a poll carried out b y the respected magazine Proceso suggests that more than 70% believe that the election results are being delayed on purpose because PAN knows that it lost but is manipulating results behind the scenes.

Mexico has made great strides towards an open democratic process, but is a country deeply divided. People still lack the absolute confidence that the elections were clean and fair, and they suspect the worst. As of today, there are as many as 3.5 million votes that seem to be unaccounted for. The percentage vote count is not 100%, and the numbers of exiting voters counted by party scrutineers is higher than the number of votes posted by IFE. The IFE counselors will be confronted with a major challenge to reconcile the numbers and demonstrate that the vote was clean and transparent. Unfortunately, the vote is so close (400,000 votes difference) that unaccounted-for 3.5 million ballots must be justified before IFE will gain the confidence of the public. The situation is doomed to be chaotic for several weeks if not months.


But there important messages that can be taken from this recent election, even during this tenuous and chaotic preliminary stage.

  • The move to true democratic participation is continuing full-throttle in Mexico! The passion and the debate evident in this election is a good sign that ordinary Mexicans are committed to the democratic process. IFE must be very careful not to undermine its recent track record of success, and it must be transparent in its decision making about the count. It shows ever indication of a commitment to of this transparency by having refused to certify a winner until all votes are accounted for and included in the tabulation. It is cautioning everyone to wait, and continually restated that the election cannot be certified without a council decision.
  • The PRI has collapsed to a disastrous level! This is a truly amazing situation. The party finished third in the Presidential Vote, but also finished third in the elections for the Senate and the Lower House. This is an amazing turnaround in just a few short years.
  • The election of representatives to the lower chamber (all 500 members were replaced) indicates that PAN has a plurality but not a majority. PAN will have about 36-38% of the seats, the PRD about 29% and the PRI 26-27%.
  • The results in the upper house (Senate) indicate the same trends. One half of the seats are replaced, and PAN will have a plurality but not a majority in numbers very similar to those in the lower house. It's possible that the PRI will retain a 2nd place in the Senate because it had more seats than the PRD in the previous Senate.
  • Felipe Calderon Hinojoso will most likely be declared the winner, but he will have less than 37% of the total vote. In Canada, we are used to this type of "split", but in Mexico it's a completely new experience. Furthermore, in Mexico the Presidential Office historically had all of the power (legislative, executive, and even judicial). The slow democratization of Mexico has "stripped" much of that power from the Presidential office, but Mexico does not yet have a system of institutional checks and balances. Whoever is the President will have to walk a tightrope, but nevertheless have a strong hand in action. The greatest counterbalance of power remains in the "unknown hand" of public opinion. If Calderón pushes too fast and too far with his agenda, there will be six years of large public protests and demonstrations from the opposition. If by some chance, Andres Manuel López Obrador is certified as president, he faces the same scenario of a "opposition by public opinion. There will be fewer street protests, but the protests spearheaded by the wealthy may an ongoing six year period of economic instability.
  • Mexico is divided between North and South, and Rich and Poor. The election results are a clear indication that these gaps are real and possibly becoming more evident. Look at the breakdown of the State by State voting in the graphic included above (source is el Universal/Herald of July 4). The divisions are even more apparent when the internatl State results are examined. Even in the "blue States", the PRD has replaced PRI as the opposition or second place finisher. in some of these States, this is an amazing turnaround in fortunes for the PRI and an incredibly surprising show of strength for the PRD.
  • Mexico City is strongly PRD. It elected a PRD mayor, and only 3 districts voted PAN. All of the rest were PRD and the voter turnout set a record in exceeding 70%. This is an interesting result because Andres Manuel López Obrador was the mayor of Mexico before resigning to become the presidential candidate for PRD, and his policies seem to have found favour and acceptance in spite of the rhetoric that he as a fire-brand and loose-cannon. (By the way, PAN employed American political pundits who worked with Carl Rove to unleash a vicious ad campaign falsely linking Andres Manuel López Obrador to Hugo Chavez)
  • CIASP might be interested to know that Hidalgo is on the edge of the North-South divide and in Mexico and Hidalgo voted for the PRD. To the north, the State of Nuevo Leon is strongly PAN, and this is not suprising because the city of Monterrey is the location in Mexico that has most profited from business ties to the US and Canada.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Follow-up information is available in the Miami Herald/El Universal English language paper of Mexico. See the following story for more information.