Mexico City: It ain’t Over ’til it’s Over


Monday, July 10, 2006

By Matt Pascarella

While much of the world believes Felipe Calderón has been officially declared Mexico's next President, it is not true. At least not yet.

(Mexico City) Last week the Electoral Commission, IFE, announced the results of a country-wide count of tally sheets - sheets that are attached to each ballot box - they found that Felipe Calderón (PAN) was ahead of López Obrador (PRD) by around 0.5%. To Calderón, there is no question that he is the winner. But according to López Obrador, he has won more votes.

TRIFE not IFE

Despite what both Calderón and Lopez Obrador tell their supporters and what you read in press reports, the next President has yet to be officially declared. IFE is not the body responsible for officially announcing the next President. Rather, it is TRIFE (Electoral Tribunal) that will make an official announcement by early September, after addressing complaints filed by each party. The parties have four days to file their objections following the results of the tally sheet count -- which was concluded last Thursday.

Last night, the PRD, Lopez Obrador's party, delivered their official complaint to the tribunal.

TRIFE, a supposedly non-partisan, independent body, has the responsibility to examine irregularities brought forth to them. TRIFE, will therefore, have to consider facts such as:

- Why hundreds of thousands of ballots have yet to be included in any count;

- Why ballots have been found, literally, in the trash;

- Why there was a massive amount of "drop-off", i.e. where people showed up to vote but did not cast a vote for president;

- Why, on Election Day, Casilla workers in places like Queretaro and Salamanca were caught on video, stuffing ballot boxes and changing tally sheets.

- The use and role of public expenditures on Calderón's campaign;

- The intervention of the current President, Vicente Fox (a member of PAN), which benefitted Calderon, during the campaign, and which is illegal according to the Electoral Commission's rules.

Other allegations include:

- A recording of a telephone call between members of PRI (the dominant party in Mexico up until 2000) and members of PAN -- which indicates they struck an alliance on Election Day when the results began filtering in, showing PRI was falling way behind.

- Evidence of Hilldebrand's involvement in compiling voter lists to annul certain voters, as well as manipulation of the PREP, the preliminary election reporting program. (Hilldebrand, a company founded by Calderon's brother-in-law, was, reportedly, hired by IFE to create the vote tallying software used in the PREP.)

These are a few of the many anomalies not only recognized by the PRD complaint, but some of which that have already been observed by the Electoral Commission itself.

"Voto Por Voto, Casilla Por Casilla"

On Saturday nearly half a million people, of all ages and from as far away as Tabasco, gathered in Mexico City's Zocalo, one of the largest squares in the world, for an "asemblea informative" ("informative assembly") organized by the PRD. There were also other simultaneous assemblies throughout the country for people that could not make it to Mexico City. As the crowd waited for members of the PRD and López Obrador himself to address them, they chanted, "Voto por voto, casilla, por casilla" ("Vote by vote, polling place, by polling place").

A few hours earlier and a few blocks away in the Don Diego conference room at the Sheraton Hotel, a press conference was held by the PRD for members of the international press. Playing it smart politically (and likely not having enough evidence), López Obrador refused to comment on foreign involvement with the election that would have benefited Calderón. Many of the questions lobbed at Lopez Obrador had to do with what his plans were for contesting the IFE results. In response, he stuck to what the party line has been since election night when it was too close to call: That they will take the legal route; that every vote should be counted; and that until that happens he refuses to concede.

Yet when López Obrador addressed the assembly he announced a nation-wide mobilization to begin this Wednesday. The crowd, waving yellow flags and holding signs claiming fraud, shouted in response, "No esta solo" ("you are not alone"). López Obrador asked that people from every state in Mexico begin marching, this Wednesday, to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, and then on Sunday, July 16th, gather at the Zocalo for another mass meeting. López Obrador called for people to be calm and to not shut down roads, (which would cripple the Mexican economy) and that, ultimately, they would win together through the government's own institutions.

"Irreversible triumph"

Two days before the meeting at the Zocalo, at PAN headquarters, Felipe Calderón gave a speech in which he said he has already won and that he will "be the best of all candidates." Among a crowd of supporters, one woman holding up a poodle dressed in a Felipe Calderon sweater, Calderón was sharp and decisive despite the official announcement from TRIFE still pending. Earlier in the week, in a show of ironic "solidarity," PAN officials offered to include Obrador in their cabinet.

Javier Arriaga Sanchez, a PAN spokesperson, said today that "Calderón's victory is irreversible."

PAN's rhetoric, on the one hand, is that they trust IFE and TRIFE. Yet, on the other hand, they are saying it is irreversible and that López Obrador is attacking the government's well established institutions.

Regardless of political leanings, the PAN discourse can only be considered hypocritical and the argument against López Obrador's unwillingness to concede seems ridiculous given the close margin and reported rampant irregularities. After all, what would Calderón have to lose if all the votes, "voto por voto, casilla por casilla," were counted? If he is so confident of his victory, the results should strengthen his legitimacy. But aside from that, and more importantly, in order to preserve Mexican democracy itself every vote should be counted.

The Long Haul

Messages of congratulations have been pouring into Calderón's camp from various countries, including the U.S. And today, a spokesperson from the UN commented, "Isolated incidents are in no way motivation to de-authorize the election," and that parties and citizens should not put into doubt the integrity of the elections. The Wall Street Journal, last week, went so far as to say that Lopez Obrador was "a sore loser."

Despite the rhetoric from both parties, the messages of congratulations, the seals of approval, and the simply erroneous reporting in the press, the Mexican election will be determined by a process. There must be respect for this process on all sides, and in reporting on this issue, the process itself must be allowed to conclude -- not only for the sake of declaring a legitimate president but for the sake of democracy itself.

Matt Pascarella is an award winning researcher and producer for investigative journalist Greg Palast. He is on assignment in Mexico covering the Presidential Election. To see pictures from Mexico click here.

Read Greg Palast's NY Times best-seller Armed Madhouse and see his dispatches at www.GregPalast.com

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