Thursday, July 06, 2006

Noche de No Dormir...AMLO ahead all day but loses at last minute

A famous Mexican incident is La Noche Triste, — a bloody nightime attack on June 30, 1520 that drove Hernán Cortés from Tenochtitlán (Mexico City). Las mañanitas of July 6, 2006 may soon be remembered as "la noche de no dormir" for all Mexicans, and July 2 may be recorded in the future as the modern sad night for believers of the PRD.

In the Presidential vote, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) maintained a large lead during the official computer count of ballots in the afternoon and evening of July 5. During the several postings of the ongoing count, his advantage over Felipe Calderón Hinojosa appeared significantly wide to lead observers to believe that he might become Latin America's next leftist head-of-state. But, in the end, he ended up losing to Calderón Hinojosa by a very slim margin after a long vigil where many Mexicans stayed awake to follow the dramatic events.

At 2.30 am, with 96.8% of the ballots counted, the 53 year old López Obrador was clinging to a precarious lead of .23 percentage points over 43 year old Felipe Calderón Hinojosa; after midnight, there was a steady and slow erosion of the PRD lead as every update was posted. 3.46 am appears to be the tipping point and the gap between the two candidates had declined to .05% in AMLO's favor. By the 4.15 am update, he trailed by .05% with 97.85% of the ballots processed. Calderón Hinojosa continued to creep ahead from that point, and by 8.40 am had achieved an insurmountable lead of .39% (about 170,000 votes) with 99.36% of ballots processed.

The official ballot count supported the Sunday PREP outcome reported from polling stations, but Calderón's lead over López Obrador was lower in the official computer tabulation. On Sunday night and Monday morning, Mexicans had also stayed awake to watch the PREP count where PAN jumped out to a large lead and then hung by its fingernails as the PRD tally eroded the difference to a little less than 1% of the total vote.

On July 5th, the IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral) began the computer processing of individual polling station ballots cast on the previous Sunday. The initial tabulation last Sunday was based on preliminary counts of 98% of the ballots; those results were reported through PREP (a preliminary reporting system) and in the early morning hours of Monday indicated that Felipe Calderón Hinojosa of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) retained a popular vote advantage of .6% over Andrés Manuel López Obrador (PRD & el Coalición por el Bien de Todos). This indicated that the PAN candidate had achieved an approximated 200,000 vote advantage out of 41 million hand-counted ballots.

IFE cautioned that PREP was NOT official, but both candidates claimed victory. Andrés Manuel López Obrador claimed that 3.5 million ballots seemed to be unaccounted for and that the PRD polling station tally indicated that he had won the election by 500,000 votes. Felipe Calderón Hinojosa claimed victory because the PREP results indicated he had a 200,000 vote advantage.

On Wednesday, July 5th, 300 IFE councils gathered in several regional centres ("juntas") around the country to process the ballots by computer and generate the official count. The ballots were grouped by polling station and fed into computers to scan the ballots . These centres were heavily guarded locations where the sealed ballot boxes had been delivered at the end of voting on Sunday (6 pm). Each regional site was heavily guarded by the army until the computer count began yesterday under formal supervision of the IFE Council.

Representatives of all parties gathered outside several of these centres, and watched anxiously as the count unfolded. There were reports of protests outside some locations, and evidence of aggressive protests demanding that IFE conduct an honest count of the ballots. The Partido Revolucionario Democratica (los perredistas after party initials PRD) also demanded that all votes be hand-counted because of irregularities they reported at some polling centres. The PRD also believed that the computer system was potentially flawed because a member of Calderón Hinojoso's family had bid on the initial contract to develop the computer system for vote process tabulation, and also argued that some Partido Acción Nacional activists (azulistas after the party color blue) won the final contract and were planning to manipulate the computer process. The dark memories of that 1988 night when election "computers" failed and gave a victory to Carlos Salinas de Gortari over the PRD candidate Cardenas Solarzano fueled this concern and gave their accusation a degree of credibility. It didn't help IFE's legitimacy in the PRD view when rumours of a brief computer crash circulated during the long night of counting results.

Surprisingly — and unexpectedly based on Sunday-Monday PREP count — AMLO (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) grabbed an early lead of several percentage points. As the vote was publicly disseminated every 10 minutes, the percentage lead held by AMLO began shrinkin by a fraction of a percentage with each posting. However, the PRD standard-bearer hung on to his lead by a razor-thin edge, and after 95% of the had been vote counted tabulated seemed destined to win— raising the hopes of his supporters. The PRD claim that AMLO had won the July 2nd vote by 500,000 votes seemed to be true based on patterns emerging as July 5 came to a close. La madrugada of July 6 saw tension increase to a nerve-wracking level throughout the entire country, and only a few people chose sleep over the ongoing drama unfolding with the each release of new tallies. Mexicans deeply care about their fledgling democracy, and the official count showed signs of declaring a different winner than Sunday's count. If that were to happen, it would have plunged Mexico into a major crisis with 2 winners declared by 2 methods of counting.

With less than 1 million votes to process out of the 41 million cast, López Obrador was clinging to a lead of almost 250,000 votes and it appeared more and more certain that the PRD would win the official vote and gain the Presidency of the Republic. But as swiftly as the hopes had risen for the PRD supporters, they had their hopes suddenly dashed. There was dramatic turnaround in the count in the deep hours of the morning, and with the sudden turnaround it was suddenly clear that a leftist president would not be replacing the free market conservative Vicente Fox Quesada.

The final margin of victory for Calderón and PAN was razor-thin — 35.89% to 35.31% .

The narrowness of the PAN victory, even though it confirmed the PREP results of July 2, will foster a sense of instability and uncertainty. PRD has demanded a hand-count of all ballots, and more radical members of the coalition remain convinced that the election was stolen. PRD called for a citizen gathering on Saturday (July 8th) in the Zocalo of Mexico City. The reasons for the protest are unclear but there is a general catalogue of perceived inconsistencies. Members of the PRD claim to have discovered discarded ballots marked in their favour, and also describe to a number of inconsistencies in several polling stations and districts.

It should be noted that Mexico City (D.F.) was solidly behind PRD in the Presidential, Congressional, and Municipal voting, and produced a record turnout in the election (more than 70%, whereas the national average was just under 60%). D.F. is PRD territory, and AMLO is highly respected based on the turnout and based on the majority vote given to PRD candidates. Obviously, it's a volatile situation that has the potential to escalate into something more threatening to the democratic process, and will be very difficult to keep under control.

Some observers expect that the contestation of results will drag on through the entire summer. A seven member Court Tribunal makes the final decision about the election after it receives a report from IFE must make a final decision by Sept. 6. It's possible that a final decision will not be made until that date. This tribunal does have the power to invalidate results, but it would take an extradordinary demonstration of irregularities for this to happen. After the announcement of the final vote count, there is a limited period of time for candidates and parties to register their protests before IFE and before this special tribunal.

But, it is clear that Felipe Calderón Hinojosa will become the new president of Mexico.

The negative campaign conducted by PAN against the PRD and specifically against Andrés Manuel López Obrador appears to have been effective and produced his electoral defeat. A deliberate campaign to tar him as a radical leftist created a climate of fear and concern about him with little foundation in fact. PAN consulted with American political consultants who allegedly had worked with Karl Rove and other Bush Republicans to orchestrate this negative campaign that IFE eventually ordered removed from public broadcast. AMLO and the PRD responded to the negative campaign by releasing information about the close family members of Felipe Calderón Hinojoso who had won large government contracts without tender, and who paid no taxes during the Sexenio (6 year term) of Vicente Fox. The campaign became very nasty and more similar to the nastiest of American campaigns as it progressed and came to an end in June.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador is NOT the extreme leftist that has been portrayed in the American (and Canadian Media), and his followers are very angry at the image of him that has been promoted by PAN and Calderón Hinojoso.

AMLO's campaign program promised to focus on the problems of the poor first...but he is also a recognized pragmatist. The North American Press, including the Globe and Mail, routinely used adjectives such as "leftist", "firebrand", "fiery", "populist" etc. when they described AMLO. But, as described above it is clear that has a very loyal following, but he is definitely NOT linked to a Hugo Chavez type ideology. He has never met Chavez, has never promoted policies similar to the mercurial Chavez, and has a life-time record of being a solid and hardworking public official and representative. Canadians should not succumb to the negative press generated about AMLO! He can be blunt and crusty, but he's not the demagogue portrayed by the media.

It's unclear how much Calderón Hinojoso will be able to accomplish. Not only did he win by the slimmest of margins, he attracted less than 37% of the popular vote. It's also clear that the Chamber of Deputies and the Mexican Senate will be balanced across all three parties in about the same proportion as the Presidential vote, and this will create the need for cooperative action by all parties. PAN and the PRD have a recent history of negative and vicious exchanges, and these election results may lead to an ongling paralysis because of the bad blood. The bad relations between the parties is unlikely to diminish in the aftermath of the election dispute. It's possible that the fomerly powerful PRI will work to support PAN, but the fact is that the PRI is badly divided and has hit rock-bottom with no apparent consensus on its future direction. It seems unlikely that the PRI will prove to be a reliable and cooperative ally for a PAN president and Congress that has the support of only 36% of the nation.

Meanwhile, the PRD supporters will potentially remain alienated and concerned that their voice is not being heard. AMLO introduced a pension for the elderly in Mexico City, supervised a program of urban renewal in downtown Mexico, established a major new bus route in congested Mexico City, and fast-tracked a second level on the major North-South expressway through the west of Mexico City (the Periferico). He had become popular and obvioiusly efficient in managing the chaos of Mexico City that event the business people had stated that they would have been able to work with him, including the wealth Mexican Carlos Slim (...the third wealthiest man in the world).

AMLO had his flaws, and did not appear to be a man who could deal with international issues, — especially with the United States. With the exception of a holidy in Cuba, López Obrador has never travelled outside of Mexico and has never owned a passport. He comes from the State of Tabasco where he lived what could be called a provincial live, even thouh it was also very colorful and unique. He had lived for extensive periods of times in Indian communities in Tabasco, and was considered a true and genuine hero by Indian communities in Mexico. He can be querelous and argumentative, and he will fight hard for something he believes in — including a belief that the election was "stolen"

He is a widower (within the past three years), and continued to live in a small condominium near the Autonomous National University of Mexico during his term as Mayor of Mexico City. He did represent a refreshing change and a strong voice supporting the poor and the downtrodden. Mexico has an incredibly large gap between the rich and the poor. A small group of extremely wealthy people control most of the money and benefit from Mexico's economy, but more than 1/2 of the population lives in abject poverty and lack basic amenities. Furthermore, the Mexican economy is so unevenly distributed that it is absolutely necessary for millions of people to seek jobs in the United States. There are at least 6.75 million illegal Mexican workers in the United States.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

John Ross is a long time observer of Mexico, and was on the campaign trail when Cuauhtemoc Cardenas began his alternate movement challenging the PRI in the 1988 Election. He has written a very interesting comparison of the 1988 and the 2006 election Day and the possibility of corruption.

It's located at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060717/ross

JC said...

On Saturday, July 8th, an estimated 150,000 to 240,000 sympathizers of Andrés Manuel López Obrador gathered in Mexico Cities Zocalo.

They listened while the presidential candidate for the coalition of "el Bien de Todos" spoke for 40 minutes and refused to accept the legitimacy of the July 2nd elections. He listed a number of general complaints about the election process — including accusations about interference of Vicente Fox in the run-up to the election.

López Obrador called for all sympathizers to gather in each of the 300 electoral districts on Wednesday and begin a peaceful march to the capitol. The plan is to meet again on Sunday July 12th in the Zocalo.

The PRD will also "respectfully present their challenge" to the electoral tribunal and request a polling station by polling station hand-count.

AMLO also stated that he will ask the Supreme Court of Mexico to repudiate the results.

Elsewhere, the third place finishers (the PRI) announced that it will support the PRD legal challenge.

The head of the electoral tribunal announced that any proven irregularities can lead to an annulment of election results, and he also said that Felipe Calderón Hinojosa is NOT the official President Elect until the tribunal certifies the vote.