Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 159 | Octubre 1994



Vote of Fear or Fear to Vote?

Five factors explain the results of the Mexican elections. Among them are the fear of change and chaos so skillfully sowed by the PRI. But the greatest fear was the one the PRI itself feels: fear of a free vote for Mexicans. That’s why it organized a gigantic fraud, for which there now is proof.

David Fernández

The August 21 elections could have been an important step in Mexico's transition to democracy, but they were not. Given the nation's immensely delicate context, the elections seemed to be particularly important to social pacification. But this was not the result. On the contrary; the elections have shown the true face of the state party, and have opened the possibility of generalized conflict in Mexico.

Social Crisis, Leadership Crisis

The January 1994 indigenous insurrection in Chiapas pushed Mexico into a new period of its history. For six years, the governing group had gambled everything on a neoliberal economic project. It now had in its hands a country with certain macroeconomic achievements, but with an indisputable economic fragility and a microeconomy in crisis.

The government pointed to the increase in national monetary reserves, the growth of the overall economy during the first half of its six year term and the brake on what had previously been endemic economic inflation. But the country paid high prices for all of these achievements. Among others was growing social polarization, a boundless increase in poverty and unemployment, an invasion of transnational capital and a crisis in national small and medium industry.

The Salinas team forgot or ignored the concrete social reality, violated elemental political rules and turned its back on the people's needs. These critical social omissions, together with the growing crisis of poverty, translated into a profound leadership and project crisis, as well as a serious rupture in the network of relations, links and processes throughout the national system.

With the regime's continuous authoritarian actions, and an insufficient advance in the country's democratic conditions, the Salinas team radically reformed basic and secondary laws that had emerged from the national pact after the 1910 1917 Revolution, without getting prior consensus. This seriously eroded the credibility of the three branches of the state, the political parties and the law itself.

Not for 60 Years

There was a scandalous exodus of capital after the Chiapas insurrection US$11 billion in just one month and the country found itself with an overvalued currency and imbalances in the market and the balance of payments. At the time of the elections, workers' real buying power was only a third of what it was 10 years ago. In 50 days the interest rates on Treasury Certificates grew from 9% to 18%. According to the Bank of Mexico and other official sources, the Gross Domestic Product grew less than 0.5% in the first quarter of 1994: "Even in the most optimistic context, estimated growth in the quarter is the lowest it has been for 60 years and can only be compared to the negative 1.3% rate registered in 1987." According to the same sources, the formally inactive and underemployed population reached 23% in that same period.

As of August 21, election day, two important assassinations remained unresolved those of Cardinal Posadas and the PRI's presidential candidate Colosio. Dozens of key economic leaders had been kidnapped; an armed nucleus of some 20,000 indigenous existed in the country's southeast region; dialogue had been suspended between the EZLN and the government; and there were enormous contradictions in the government party. The searches and theft of documentation from the offices of nongovernmental organizations, and the persecution and intimidation of Jesuits, social leaders and the media, all multiplied in the months before the elections.

All of this gave Mexico a pre electoral climate of instability that had not been seen in the country for 60 years. It was a national crisis that encompassed almost every area: the exhaustion of a model of power and ways of exercising that power, a crisis of values measurable in disorientation about the future, an economic crisis softened in part by the monetary relief received from the United States, a labor crisis with new job cuts and the annual entry of 900,000 youths into the labor market with no hope of finding jobs.

Five Reasons for the Electoral Results

Even given this crisis, the Salinas regime gambled everything on perpetuating the PRI in power and did almost the impossible to make sure it happened. The fraud that took place on August 21 demonstrates the extremes of these actions.

Even before then, the designation of Ernesto Zedillo as the PRI candidate, after Colosio's assassination, evidenced this determination to "name the successor to the throne" in historic Maximilian style. Another example was the government's refusal to implement the electoral reforms needed to guarantee clean and credible elections. From the start, the government prepared itself for fraud and for the mobilizations that would try to challenge the elections afterward. For example, dozens of anti riot vehicles were assigned to the army and were ready for any public disturbances after the elections.

The predictions became reality; there was fraud. But, as Heberto Castillo pointed out, the Mexican elections were like a David Copperfield magic act; everyone knows that there was a trick somewhere, but no one has been able to show exactly where.

Five factors, in order of importance, contributed to the official party's supposed triumph: 1) multiple fraud; 2) the state party system itself; 3) the round up of citizens' votes; 4) the conception of Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas' campaign, the only really viable alternative; and 5) the internal situation of Cárdenas' Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD).

1. The Fraud: 11,000,000 Votes

As became more and more evident, the electoral process was corrupted from the start. The great variety of data that has been offered could disorient even the most dedicated analyst. The definitive percentages presented by the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) establish the PRI as the winner of the presidential elections with 48.77% of the votes. Fernández de Cevallos of the National Action Party (PAN) follows with 25.94%, leaving Cárdenas in third place with only 16.60%.

These are fraudulent data. It can be fairly assured that close to five million people who wanted to vote were scratched from the official lists. Proof of this was seen in the multiple protests in the special voting units. They were set up for citizens in transit, but were saturated by voters whose names mysteriously did not appear on the voters' list of their community. Only a small percentage of these people managed to vote.

There were also the "ghosts" as many as six million nonexistent voters who inflated the registration list through the use of homonyms and other name games. Foro Mexico, together with various invited foreign guests, managed to find several of these "ghosts" on the list and filed suit against IFE director Arturo Núñez.

In conclusion, at least 11 million votes were up in the air and presumably were used to increase numbers for the official party.

Other traditional fraud mechanisms, already well documented by the Civic Alliance, were also used: registered voters whose names were not on the nominal list in almost 70% of the voting booths; citizens who registered far from home; police and military who voted several times in the special booths, starting early in the morning, to use up all their ballots; booths where people were allowed to vote without identification (8%) or with their finger already stained with ink (35%); voters whose finger was not stained; the use of washable ink.

2. The PRI: A Powerful Machine

If anything came clear in these long awaited elections, it was the character of the Mexican state and its electoral arm, the PRI. In reality, the opposition did not face a political party, but a complete apparatus of administrative and social control. PRI government pillars in the elections included large capital, the media (particularly Televisa), all of the government institutions, public officials, the Church, schools and unions.

Who among us would dare to form a soccer team to play Brazil's championship team, in its home stadium with Brazilian rules and referees? This was what the opposition did in the elections.

As pointed out in the declaration of the National Democratic Convention on the Elections, Mexico's elections were unjust. In a state party system, electoral competition is not democratic. And in Mexico's case, the concerns were both structural and historical. It has a patrimonial government that administers programs and public resources in an attempt to buy legitimacy, a 60 year old changing of the guard system in which these changes are decided in private by the oligarchy, and corporate control for whom union rights are bargaining material.
The Mexican elections were and are also unjust because of the lack of legal reforms, which left a substantial part of the preparation, organization and qualification of the elections in government hands.

3. The Vote Round Up: Real but Coerced

The evidence that large sectors of the population changed their minds and ended up voting for the official party cannot be underestimated. This vote, free and self decided, deserves respect. But the way the PRI government obtained that vote was totally illegitimate. With techniques reminiscent of Hitler's fascism, voters were threatened with chaos and insecurity if the opposition won.

This vote switching, no matter how much Zedillo denies it, was due to campaigns like "Mexico repudiates violence," or "My vote is for peace," which were simply disguised anti Cárdenas slogans. The state party also used various mechanisms that would be considered crimes in any democratic country, including the indiscriminate employment of government resources for PRI propaganda. Conditioned funds from PRONASOL and PROCAMPO were openly used for the campaign on various occasions, including the day before the election.

The government also totally controlled the media throughout the campaign on behalf of the official candidate. It created various "observer" and "quick count" organizations, in an attempt to decrease the influence of similar instruments that citizens' groups, particularly the 1994 Civic Observation Alliance, organized to have some level of control in the elections.

For all of these reasons, there is growing awareness in the country that a vote for the state party cannot be interpreted as support for the neoliberal project, which has severely polarized society. It is rather a result of fear and coercion promoted by the Mexican state.

Together with the popular vote that shifted to the PRI, there was, as always, the old corporate vote. It was bought in the unions, trading surreptitious or public promises by PRI leaders for people's conscience and convictions.

4. The PRD Campaign: Three Mistakes

Three mistakes in the Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas campaign also influenced the electoral results. The first was to think that its phenomenal success in 1988 could naturally be repeated through voter inertia and repeated Cuauhtémoc meetings.

Behind this thinking were the second and third errors: underestimating the media's influence on the population and trying to attract medium and upper social sectors to the PRD program. The latter led to a loss of part of the party's traditional base. The campaign tried to make Cárdenas into a "lite" candidate, trustworthy, civilized and "decent," but the owners of capital were not convinced that they could trust him.

5. PRD Divisions

Internal conflicts in the PRD inevitably went against the party, and its hegemonic bureaucratic style handicapped the electoral campaign. It is a bureaucracy that tends to negotiate and make easy pacts with the state it claims to oppose, on the bandwagon of a social movement that is not its own but that it uses for its own promotion. This power group is afraid of the people, with a great vocation as opposition but little will to take power.

It is not unlikely that the PRD could fracture in this post electoral period. The hegemonic group appears willing to isolate the "intransigent" sector, headed by the party's general secretary. This would free it from the obstacle that prevents negotiation and accommodation with the new regime. If citizen protests increase and there are strong pressures to maintain unity, this may be avoided, but the danger is real.

A Vote of Fear?

Some analysts have tried to compare the Mexican election results to the Sandinista defeat in Nicaragua. Nothing is further from the truth. Even though it remains difficult to prove legally, the determining factor in the official electoral results was colossal fraud, not a vote born of fear of more war and economic of privation.

As Foro Mexico noted, "Everyone who was an accomplice in preparing this fraudulent state operation is now trying to deceive the population into believing the ridiculous thesis that the PRI won because it counted on the 'fear vote.' The incredible 16 million votes for the PRI presidential candidate are not the product of a 'vote of fear' but of the PRI state's pathological fear of a free citizens' vote."
It is also necessary to point out that, despite the political system and its manipulation of the vote, over half of the voters repudiated the PRI system. Given the electoral conditions, this is a significant censure of the government and a potential base from which to struggle for an authentic transition to democracy. It must be remembered that the country is still in the transition to democracy; an election, no matter how important, neither ends that transition nor defines it. This is not the end.

In Chiapas the people are repudiating the fraud committed and trying to keep the PRI candidate, Eduardo Robledo Rincón, from taking office as governor. With moral support from the Zapatistas, people there are blocking roads, taking over offices, marching and holding meetings to defend the triumph of civil society's candidate, Amado Avendaño of the PRD.

The PAN, Mexico's traditional right wing, faces a deep contradiction between the leaders, with Fernández de Cevallos at their head, who negotiated the fraud, and the honest bases on which the party counts. In the state of Guanajuato, Vicente Fox a leader whose victorious campaign for governor in the elections was "negotiated" away by his party's leadership has almost definitively broken with the PAN.

The government legislated "locks" on the electoral process such as prohibiting coalitions or allowing the government to preside over the IFE were pushed through with the PAN's support. This and PAN presidential candidate Fernández's rapid recognition of his defeat by Zedillo on election day have raised serious questions about PAN's national credibility.

Forty seven percent of Mexicans think the elections were not clean and they place equal blame on the PRI and the PAN. In reality, Mexico appears to be developing a US style two party system, with the approval of the US government.

It Will Not End Here

Election irregularities of all sorts are being recognized both within Mexico and without. Observers, journalists, citizens and political parties are discovering, little by little, the dirty side of those elections that have tried to pass as clean. This is reactivating citizen indignation and insurgence.

So concludes the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) report by Jared Kotler: "Irregularities and violations of electoral laws were present on all fronts, without exception. The only positive aspect was the massive participation of the Mexican people, not just as voters during the elections, but also as observers, voting booth officials and party representatives. This speaks well for the aspirations of the Mexican people. But our collective fear is that these aspirations will be melted by the heat of violations."
The objective in Mexico continues to be this: the establishment of a legitimate, pluralistic and representative government that, founded on law and with a broad transition program, creates the conditions for a transition to democracy and, within a broad democratic reform, can convoke a constitutional congress and organize the first democratic elections in our country's history. This will be possible only if the nation's democratic forces form a broad front to combat the state party system at all social levels.

The PRI government will try, at all cost, to impede the formation of this broad front, as well as any reactivation of civil insurgence. It has already begun: harassment of social leaders, a return to old practices of disappearances and torture, the establishment of new controls on the media, and the search for as many endorsements as possible both nationally and internationally.

It is dangerous. This kind of behavior could push us towards a national war. The existence of various political military groups or fronts, including but not limited to Chiapas, is a proven fact. Their willingness to act is palpable, and they will act if spaces are not opened for the development of citizens' mobilization. It will not end with the elections.

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