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  Number 301 | Agosto 2006
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Mexico

Elections 2006: “This Isn’t Democracy”

Was the tiny gap between Calderón and López Obrador real or was it the product of manipulation and fraud? Whatever the truth, the powerful interest groups, enemies of democracy, imposed their will. The elections were unfair and managed by a biased electoral commission.

Jorge Alonso

The elections held in Mexico on July 2 laid bare a democratic disaster. With the elections six years ago, people thought the country had entered a new democratic era, but it was wishful thinking. During his campaign then, Vicente Fox, presidential candidate of the National Action Party (PAN), saw that he couldn’t possibly win at the polls because of the tricks of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had run the state for three-quarters of a century. So he made secret deals with representatives of the financial moguls. Tied into illegal financing later discovered by the electoral commission, he won those elections, booting the PRI out of presidential office in what was dubbed “the changeover.”

What happened was interpreted as a true democratic triumph, and there were great hopes for further change in that direction. But since it was more the result of an appetite for power than a commitment to democracy, the government soon made deals with the PRI’s old corporative power circles, betraying its commitment to union reform. It seemed easier to govern with the old regime’s still intact authoritarian and undemocratic structure.

Fox orchestrated everything
from his presidential office

Once he was President, Fox became convinced that the end justified whatever means. From his offices, he did everything necessary to ingratiate himself with the electronic media, another of the powerful interest groups. He maneuvered to get them concessions and approved a law regulating radio and TV that benefited the media moguls. He relegated the media’s social role, treating them like a business and leaving community and indigenous radios defenseless.

As President, Fox also prepared the way for the 2006 elections. First of all, in an undemocratic move, he tried to prevent the Federal District’s head of government, Andres Manuel López Obrador, from standing as a presidential candidate for a leftist coalition, using a blatantly political maneuver—an attempt at impeachment. When that went nowhere, he made a deal with the powerful factions to ensure that they wouldn’t let López Obrador win. He used his presidential power and the resources that went with it to cut this deal, making wild increases in spending on advertising to support his own party’s candidate, and to attack López Obrador. The latter’s coalition, made up of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), the Workers’ Party (PT) and the Convergence, adopted the name “For the Good of All,” and campaigned under the slogan “First the poor.” Certainly Fox couldn’t allow him to get away with that kind of sentiment!

Union leader fulfills
three key tasks

The President and his party also made an alliance with the lifetime leader of the teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who fulfilled three important tasks for the PAN. In late 2003 she used the PRI’s General Secretariat to actively push for the reestablishment of the General Council of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). She nominated five of the nine members of this electoral leadership body and left the PAN to appoint four, excluding the PRD from decisions about its composition. This was not only a blatantly partisan maneuver, but also an attack on achieving consensus among the electoral players.

Gordillo’s second task was to encourage disunity within the PRI. She founded a new party that succeeded in registering for the elections and was promoted by activists among her union’s leadership. From there she encouraged the PRI state governors not to support their or even her candidate, but instead go for the PAN.

This woman’s third and related task was to move votes from her new teachers’ union party to the PAN’s presidential candidate. Her party has not distinguished itself by anything other than undemocratic practices and electoral maneuvers.

Advisers, a dirty campaign
and social problems

The PRI, which had made an important electoral recovery in the midterm federal elections in 2003, suffered a catastrophic defeat in 2006, ending up in third place in both the presidential and legislative elections. Its deep internal divisions and imposed candidates were the causes of its undoing.

In spite of all the support he got from Fox’s illegal and ruthless campaign, Felipe Calderón, the PAN’s presidential candidate failed to dominate the campaign at the start. The PAN hired Spanish advisers and opted for fascist tactics of lies and calumny against the candidate leading the polls, the PRD’s López Obrador. The centerpiece of this dirty campaign was to accuse him of being a populist who would bring people only misfortune. TV and radio advertisements encouraged a fear of change and tried to whip up hatred towards the leftist candidate. These ads relentlessly repeated that López Obrador was “a danger” to Mexico. In addition, the woman who had been heading the Social Development Secretariat was brought in to manage the PAN campaign, giving the PAN an advantage with all the information and connections she had through the social programs.

López Obrador on the defensive

Was the tiny gap between Calderón and López Obrador real or was it the product of manipulation and fraud? Whatever the truth, the powerful interest groups, enemies of democracy, imposed their will.

The leftist candidate was confident that the dirty tactics would result in a backlash from the electorate and that what was keeping him ahead in the polls was a campaign that reached people directly at the grass roots, not via the media. Nevertheless, he began to feel the impact of the dirty war as he moved down in the ratings, which forced him to respond and resort to speaking through the media. In the meantime, his party made a hopeless request to the IFE to act as a fair arbiter, put an end to the dirty tactics and control Fox’s illegal proselytism.

During his campaign, López Obrador outlined his proposals—fight corruption, cut government spending, put an end to fiscal privileges and raise productivity, insisting always that “for the good of all” it was necessary first to attend to the poor—but at the same time he was put permanently on the defensive. He consistently criticized the fact that the PAN candidate’s campaign was supported by public funds and subsidized by big business.

In the middle of April, the new head of the Social Development Secretariat was forced to acknowledge the results of studies carried out by academics, which showed that 10% of the 44 million beneficiaries of state-financed social projects were vulnerable to electoral manipulation. The study pointed to the fact that up to 4 million people might change their vote because of promises that they would be registered as beneficiaries of these programs. Even the United Nations Development Program warned that a range of federal social development programs were susceptible to political or electoral manipulation.

In the name of
freedom of expression

Also in mid-April, the IFE was shown to be divided about the intense electoral war. While some people thought it was their obligation to prevent dirty advertising, the majority said they would not intervene. Messages of fear and hate proliferated, not only on TV channels, but also through emails and messages on cell phones. Those who obtained most economic benefits from this war were the media oligarchies that received the flood of money spent on ads.

The IFE’s rationale for not clamping down on the dirty tactics was respect for freedom of expression. Nevertheless, one academic responded that the constitutional article defending freedom of expression also establishes limits for it.

A former member of the Electoral Council made the point that this body was not currently fulfilling its regulatory function, but was instead infringing legislation and abdicating its true purpose, which was to guarantee society elections that would not only make sure the elected posts in the branches of state were filled through free voting in a fair contest, but also contribute to concordance. Another media specialist reminded people that the law obliges parties to abstain from any expression involving calumny, infamy, injury, diatribe, defamation or denigration of citizens, public institutions or other parties and their candidates. By not putting a halt to the dirty tactics, the IFE showed serious bias and prejudiced the quality of the electoral process.

The PRD was forced to appeal to the Electoral Tribunal and towards the end of May it ruled that it was offensive and
untrue to assert—as the PAN ads were doing—that López Obrador was “a danger to Mexico.” The PRD applauded the measure, but lamented its lateness. Nevertheless, the PAN’s foreign advisers found ways to continue the dirty war. Going against the ethical principles of its founders, the PAN boasted that these tactics were reaping very good political dividends.

Clean hands?

Two debates were held among the candidates. López Obrador didn’t attend the first one and his rivals took advantage of his absence to say that he was afraid and being disrespectful to the citizenry. In the second one, when the PAN’s Calderón attacked López Obrador, he responded by challenging the PAN campaign’s slogan “Clean Hands” with information found on the Internet that Calderón’s son-in-law hadn’t paid taxes on his company’s profits. Although the PAN claimed that Calderón hadn’t given him any contracts, the son-in-law acknowledged on TV that his company had indeed received contracts worth several million pesos from Calderón when he was head of the Energy Secretariat.

The PRD’s revelations led to the exposure of a wide network of favor-trading and gave substance to the accusations that Calderón had also influenced the registration of beneficiaries for the social programs and voter lists. The PRD also denounced the diversion of funds to Calderón’s campaign from a rural housing program. With a typical PAN touch, even funds to support the elderly had been siphoned off.

López Obrador is
“a danger for Mexico”?

In the middle of June news came out that big business was coercing employees to vote for the PAN by threatening them with dismissal. Several clergy were also proselytizing in favor of the PAN. In the campaign’s last days, the Coordinating Council of Businesses joined the PAN’s dirty war even though the law only allows political parties to engage in electoral propaganda. The business umbrella retorted that six electoral counselors had given their agreement.

The PAN insisted in its advertisements that if López Obrador were to become President, he would send the country into debt and provoke economic bankruptcy. López Obrador explained that his measures to favor those who had least—involving mechanisms to increase their income and charge them less for gas and electricity—did not imply debt because he would make cuts in the high costs of state bureaucracy and reduce fiscal privileges for those who had most. Although Calderón had accused López Obrador of being a populist during the campaign, by the last lap the PAN candidate was also promising to cut gas and electricity prices to benefit the poorest. López Obrador merely applauded Calderon’s support for policies he had previously dismissed as populist.

A peaceful day and
a very tense night

After so much tension, the day of the elections passed peacefully even though 18,702 trainees had to be used as electoral officials, 3.5% of whom had received no training at all. In the Federal District, many people aged over 60—who presumably were in favor of López Obrador because of his senior citizen programs—charged that they had been eliminated from the electoral rolls and couldn’t vote.

On election night, the conflict returned with greater force. The TV channels announced that, because the contest was so close, the exit polls, which are made “on the spot” as people are coming out of the booths, could not be shown. At almost midnight, the IFE president reported that the quick-count database wasn’t showing a clear leaning and thus he couldn’t say who was in the lead. Seconds later, President Fox gave a Message to the Nation in which he urged people to trust the Federal Electoral Institute.

Both Calderón and López Obrador declared themselves winners. The UN Development Program invited famous personalities to form what it called a “peace room,” which asked both parties and voters to wait for the Electoral Tribunal’s official vote count and declaration. It also called for a national democratic dialogue.

Inconsistencies and suspicions

The Preliminary Electoral Results Program (PREP) kicked off with an advantage for Calderón which he never lost for even a moment. The PRD charged that this was inexplicable in such a tight contest, and indicated that the results were being manipulated. The final margin produced by the program was more than a percentage point in favor of the PAN candidate. López Obrador denounced that the data didn’t add up, given that the program was missing 3 million votes. At that point, the IFE acknowledged its inconsistencies.

The PRD also challenged the IFE for not saying that the data released corresponded to only 90% of the voting tables rather than 98.5%, as appeared on the official page. When the program’s file of inconsistencies was reviewed, it turned out that López Obrador had more votes than Calderón in the final packet of votes to be counted, which ultimately reduced the PAN’s advantage to 0.6%. The IFE’s mismanagement of the program produced growing suspicions.

The candidate of the party formed by the Elba Esther Gordillo called for Calderón’s triumph to be admitted as “irreversible” and the PRI candidate accepted his defeat, implicitly backing Calderón. It was an historic collapse for the PRI, which did not even win states where there was a PRI governor.

Cyber fraud? Theft by ants?

On the Monday and Tuesday following the election, the PAN, supported by big business, pressed for the IFE to declare Calderón the winner based on the PREP, but doubts arose from academic groups about the possibility of cyber fraud. The PRD denounced what it called “theft by ants.” While the votes for President were greater than for senators in states where Calderón won, the reverse was true in several states where López Obrador won, which couldn’t be explained.

In previous elections, the PAN had always presented the voting table count sheets, but in the first days after the elections, it pointed to the PREP and exit polls to argue that it had won. Up until Wednesday morning, when the recount started in the districts, Calderón announced that he had 100% of the count sheets, and that they showed a total of 14,870,170 votes.

Many international heads of state, unaware that the process hadn’t ended and that the Electoral Tribunal would have the last word, began to congratulate Calderón. When the Foreign Relations Ministry failed to clarify the situation, the PRD had to intervene.

Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista movement declared that, although “the Other Campaign” wasn’t participating in the elections, it was evident that sophisticated fraud was happening at the top and in the name of the campaign rejected the presidential election’s fraudulent result. Other analysts summed up what had happened as unfair elections managed by a biased electoral commission.

A vote-by-vote recount

Appealing on behalf of the country’s future peace, the PRD demanded a vote-by-vote recount from the outset, but even though there was an official recount, the PAN and the IFE refused to allow all voting packets to be opened, asserting that the law determined the cases in which this could happen. Only 2% of the ballot boxes were reviewed, and even in those there were indications of illegally annulled votes for López Obrador.

The IFE was in a hurry. The recount lasted one day less than in 2000, and its results showed that Calderón had obtained 15,000,284 votes, giving him a 0.5% lead over López Obrador. This was 130,114 more votes than Calderón himself had claimed to have, allegedly based on the polling table count sheets. With that the PRD charged the existence of a major electoral fraud and declared that the IFE president’s announcement of the winner when this was the responsibility of the Electoral Tribunal proved that López Obrador had won the elections and not Calderón.

The PRD again demanded that the Tribunal open all the voting packets and do a vote-by-vote recount, which the PAN again opposed. Even though Mexican law gave the PRD right to challenge the election results, the demand was presented in the electronic media as an act of destabilization.

Anomalies, irregularities, pressures

While the European Union’s electoral observer delegation declared the election clean, the organization Global Exchange considered that the IFE had shown bias in favor of the governing party, denounced the persistence of past practices such as the purchase and coercion of votes and explained that, although some anomalies appeared minor, they were in fact important given such a close result.

Civic Alliance, an organization experienced in electoral observation since 1994, demanded that the irregularities reported by several national and international observers before, during and after the elections be investigated. It said it could prove cases of vote buying and coercion by municipal agents, proselytism and inappropriate influence by religious ministers and big business in support of Calderón, and a lack of transparency by the IFE in dealing with the results. It also charged that the free and secret vote had been violated in nearly 11% of the voting centers under observation, since people had been exerting pressure in these places.

The New York Times considered that the problems of the Mexican election merited a complete recount and The Financial Times agreed that it would help Mexico overcome the crisis. It suggested that national reconciliation would be difficult if a substantial number of poor people didn’t believe the new President to be legitimate and advised Mexico’s elites not to underestimate the dangers the electoral crisis represented. Calderón reportedly tried to influence The Washington Post’s editor to say that he had won the election.

PRD: Two challenges and a demand

A week after the elections, López Obrador’s supporters filled the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square for what it announced would be peaceful demonstrations against the electoral fraud. They criticized the PAN as a good apprentice of the PRI’s fraudulent methods. It was clear that great shadows hung over the elections and that Mexico was experiencing a backpedaling in electoral democracy.

With the material that the PRD and the Coalition for the Good of All presented to the Electoral Tribunal, they made a specific challenge, a generic challenge and a demand for a vote-by-vote recount to dissipate all doubts. They argued that the electoral process had not fulfilled the constitutional criteria of fairness, objectivity, impartiality, transparency and legality and had denied Mexicans a free vote. Many factors had influenced this twisting of civic will: the PRD blamed President Fox, the PAN, its candidate, big business and the IFE officials. It pointed to the dirty propaganda in thousands of ads, written messages, phone calls and Internet messages that presented López Obrador as a danger for Mexico, comparing him gratuitously with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

The IFE had failed to intervene either in time or in the correct way to restrain this propaganda and when it finally did so it was only after the Electoral Tribunal had ordered it to. President Fox had organized a media campaign dedicated to mislead and coerce the Mexican electorate. In addition, he propagandistically linked the government’s social programs to a vote for the PAN. Both his federal administration and several state secretariats had pressured, coerced and exercised undue influence on voters.

Complaints of multiple abuses

The PRD highlighted the use of funds from the rural housing program, the Opportunities program and other schemes managed by the Social Development Secretariat in favor of the PAN. It also denounced the illegal participation of churches to proselytize for the PAN candidate and against López Obrador and documented many cases of companies that had intervened directly on Calderón’s behalf.

The PAN had also exceeded campaign funding ceilings. The amount spent directly by the party, plus that spent by big business on its behalf, was 895.4 million pesos (approximately US$83 million), 37% over the authorized limit of 651.4 million pesos. The PRD also protested the illegal participation of foreigners in support of Calderón’s campaign. The former Spanish President, Jose Maria Aznar, had publicly harangued people to vote for Calderón on February 21 in Mexico City, and Spanish publicist Antonio Sola had advised the PAN on its dirty war. The PRD also demanded that the very early stages of the campaign be scrutinized, when Calderón was still Fox’s energy secretary.

An important part of the PRD’s challenge concerned the partisan bias shown by the Federal Electoral Institute. There were also complaints about the dismissive attitude of the Specialized Attorney on Electoral Crimes. Yet another aspect of the challenge dealt with illegal use of the electoral rolls by Calderón through his son-in-law’s company.

Other abuses concerned the PAN’s use of call centers and push polls whereby people automatically received messages supporting Calderón and opposing López Obrador. And in various voting centers, people served as officials whose names did not appear in the publication listing the officials for those locations and it was impossible to verify whether they belonged there or not.

Votes annulled,
eliminated, subtracted…

In view of the large number of annulled votes, there was suspicion that valid votes had been illegally damaged. It was claimed that votes belonging to the New Alliance Party had been counted as PAN votes in centers where no representatives of the Coalition for the Good of All were present. In its demand, the PRD addressed the manipulation of the PREP, but the key issue was the great number of arithmetical mistakes in the voting count sheets. In many cases, there were more votes than voters.

The Coalition for the Good of All claimed that more than 1,600,000 votes could not be substantiated with the voter count sheets. Only 42,762 of of these sheets had correctly tallied data, while the other 72,197 showed errors, with 898,862 votes added illegally and 722,326 eliminated artificially. In addition, in a great number of polling places where the Coalition had no representatives, there were completely illogical percentages of votes for Calderón.

Finally, without having requested permission from the Electoral Tribunal and with no party representatives present, IFE officials had illegally opened 3,000 voting packets after the official date for checking the electoral results. The Coalition blamed Elba Esther Gordillo, her New Alliance Party and the PAN for orchestrating the electoral fraud. All this strengthened the demand for a total recount.

The Tribunal received 364 complaints of malpractice, most of which came from the Coalition. Although the PAN proclaimed that the elections had been clean and transparent, it also challenged results in a large number of voting centers.

The end of electoral democracy

Fox continued stoking the fire by declaring that Mexico was moving forward “in spite of the renegades,” which was the term he and the media used for the many young people in the demonstrations protesting the fraud. Researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) came out in favor of a total recount, since science shows it’s best to re-measure when there isn’t complete certainty. They warned that, to remove all doubts, this should be done without using the Federal Electoral Institute’s computer system, which was held in question, and recommended that the universities and NGOs participate in the recount.

Porfirio Muñoz Ledo wrote that it was impossible to talk of electoral democracy owing to the accumulation of illegal actions and the combination of plots and complicities and accused Fox of establishing a takeover policy. He asserted that the PAN campaign had been inspired by fascist ideologues and that people were beginning to talk of an ideological and political class struggle that goes beyond a simple change of government. The situation, he affirmed, resembled the enthronement of behind-the-scenes powerful factions.

Pablo González Casanova wrote an article entitled “This is not democracy” in which he affirmed that the 2006 elections were not like previous state elections, but are a new type of emerging transnational state-world election whose supporters and subordinates include states and political regimes from the metropolis and the periphery. He warned that those who are fighting for true democracy should prevent this violation of the popular vote. Former electoral counselor Jaime Cárdenas said much the same thing, defining it not as a state election but one where the de facto power groups had subjected the formal powers of the state and imposed a candidate in tune with their interests rather than the legitimate winner of a free vote.
Faced with the crisis, the dirty war broke out again, promoted by big business and the media to try to force López Obrador to throw in the towel and stop calling mass demonstrations. López Obrador replied that he would continue to fight electoral fraud and that all decisions would be taken in consultation with the people.

An “electoral revolt”

On Sunday, July 16, López Obrador gathered more than one and a half million people opposed to the fraud in the Zócalo and called for peaceful resistance, telling them that Mexico did not deserve a spurious President. Groups of his followers stood guard at the front of 300 district headquarters to ensure against any illegal removal of documents or manipulation of voting packets. Days before, symbolic acts repudiating the fraud were held in different locations: the stock exchange, banks, shopping malls, businesses….

Without having been officially appointed, Felipe Calderón was now behaving like the President-elect and holding meetings with different organizations. He got support not only from the business heads, but also from the leadership of the undemocratic unions. Former Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda praised Fox for having actively intervened on Calderón’s behalf and urged him not to be pushed off balance by the demonstrations.

The IFE appealed to the Tribunal to defend the PAN’s triumph and spent a great deal of money trying to present itself as a civic organization. It also tried to shrug off the mistakes it had made in training officials, arguing that if the election itself was in doubt, that also called into question the citizens who had acted as electoral officials. Nonetheless, some junior IFE members admitted that people had many doubts and that confidence had to be regenerated with a vote recount. A priest who had participated in the 1986 protests against fraud in Chihuahua declared that twenty years later there was now a new “electoral insurgence.” While the cardinal of Guadalajara supported Calderón, the bishop of Saltillo, Raul Vera, backed a vote-by-vote recount.

López Obrador sent a letter to Calderón proposing that he support such a total recount in order to eliminate any suspicion of fraud, which, as was to be expected, Calderón rejected. The PRD declared that this demonstrated he was an authoritarian politician only interested in responding to the interests he represented. López Obrador said that he would stop calling demonstrations if a total recount was accepted, but that if the Electoral Tribunal decided against his demand, he would accept its resolution under protest because the election had not been either clean or free.

The Electoral Tribunal had two options

On Sunday July 30, a new mega-march against electoral fraud brought together more people than the previous two Sundays and they decided to take the further step of initiating a civic vigil to demand the total recount. Forty-seven permanent camps were set up from the Zócalo of Mexico City to the capital beltway, one for each federal entity and each delegation of the Federal District. López Obrador stayed in these camps as well.

The Electoral Tribunal had two basic options. It could stick to the legal and formal route and throw out the challenge, leading to a long political confrontation, or it could go to the heart of the problem as a legitimate guarantor, correct the voting sheet mistakes and declare the genuinely triumphant candidate based on the results.

While there were those who argued that a complete recount wouldn’t be legal, some important jurists argued that the Electoral Tribunal has the power to conduct one in order to remove all doubts. Nor, given the number of irregularities, including those prior to voting day, was the possibility of declaring the election itself null and void ruled out. In such a situation, the new Congress would have to appoint an interim President and call new elections within 18 months.

An important collateral issue is that six of the seven electoral judges finish their term in office at the end of October 2006. There will also be vacant positions in the Supreme Court of Justice, appointments that depend on President Fox and on the new Senate, in which no party has a majority. Some fear that the judges may be bought. The PRD has denounced the pressure that the Government Secretariat and de facto powers are putting on it, while there are also voices calling for trust in the Electoral Tribunal. With ten years’ accumulated experience, the Tribunal could have produced a declaration that would have objectively clarified the election, leaving no doubt. Many of its members have demonstrated independence.

The fight will be a long one

On Saturday August 5 the Tribunal chose to limit itself to a narrow interpretation and review only 9% of the ballot boxes. López Obrador rejected what he called “one tenth democracy,” accusing the judges of failing to see the bigger picture and of sticking to the PAN’s criteria. The decision was partial and incomplete, but pleased the PAN’s euphoric supporters. The opening of this meager number of ballot boxes means people will never know for sure who actually won and is thus a decision that doesn’t resolve the conflict. The reaction of the PRD supporters was to form a human chain and repeat their demanding for a vote-by-vote and ballot box-by-ballot box recount. The Information Assembly
of the Coalition for the Good of All moved from the Zócalo to the Electoral Tribunal headquarters. The Coalition charged that the judges, pressured by outside forces, were trying to legitimize electoral fraud. The fight for democracy will continue and promises to be a long one.

If it had happened…

The fact that the PAN and its candidate opposed a total recount increases the suspicions about what might be revealed by opening the packets. If the Tribunal had accepted a recount and one had been done, and even if Calderón had ended up with more votes, it wouldn’t mean that the election had been democratic. A good number of votes were neither free nor informed, but rather coerced by the dirty war of verbal and symbolic abuse. Perversely, this war involved accusations of violence against those who were suffering violence. If the elections had been declared null and void and there had been new elections with no substantial changes, the polarization would only deepen, since the current Federal Electoral Institute has already demonstrated its bias. There would surely have been a return to dirty tactics with much more furor, giving the anti-democratic alliances a great advantage the second time around.

What draws most attention

Another fact these elections have exposed is that the PAN will continue looking for support from the most corrupt and undemocratic corporatist union structures. In previous elections, the powerful financial and media moguls at least had to answer to the state. Now, a fraudulent election has been engineered by these behind-the-scenes powers—including not only financial capital and the mass media oligarchy, but also a large part of the Catholic hierarchy and organized crime—and they have subjugated the political parties and the state.

The parties not only lost their demarcation lines—all of them exchanged candidates—but they ended up looking insignificant compared to the cliques running the dirty campaign with a huge amount of financing of unknown origins.

What draws attention is that the de facto domestic power groups, united to international financial capital and the Bush government, were simply unable to stomach the possibility that the Coalition for the Good of All candidate might actually win the elections in a free vote. Andrés Manuel López Obrador didn’t represent an alternative to neoliberal politics; all he did was offer less bad conditions to impoverished people. It’s revealing to see how these power groups not only opposed addressing Mexico’s serious social problems, but also attacked the most basic premise of electoral democracy: the right to a free and informed vote.

The good thing
about this tense situation

The elections have left Mexico a fragmented country. In the north, a majority voted for a continuation of the PAN’s policies, although a sizeable minority called for a change in the economic model. In the impoverished south, most of the population clamored for change. This indicates the urgent need for a national dialogue on democracy.

The good thing about all of this tension has been the awakening of a dormant civic movement for democracy that could push for important changes not only related to electoral democracy, i.e. respect for the free vote, truly autonomous and unbiased electoral commissions, shorter campaigns, transparency about the origin and use of funds, and real restrictions on the purchase of media space. It could go even further in pushing for comprehensive democracy, which means participation and deliberation in order to achieve essential social democracy.


Jorge Alonso is a researcher at CIESAS West, and envío correspondent in Mexico.

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