Hundreds of thousands gather in the Mexican capital on July 16 to protest the election results.
As the U.S. media distorts the aftermath of the July 2 election, evidence
suggests there may be an attempted theft in progress.
A month after more than 41 million Mexicans went to the polls to elect their
next president, the country is still awaiting a result. A preliminary count
of polling station tally sheets put conservative Felipe Calderón of the
National Action Party (PAN) ahead with a slight lead over left-populist Andres
Manuel López Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). Both candidates
have claimed victory, with López Obrador and his supporters holding vigils
and protests across the country and calling for a vote-by-vote recount.
That hasn't kept a consensus from emerging in the commercial media that Calderón
won by a small margin in a squeaky-clean election. In a hyperbolic
editorial on July 30 -- one that bordered on the ridiculous -- the Washington
Post accused López Obrador, known as AMLO to his supporters, of taking
"a lesson from Joseph Stalin" and launching an "anti-democracy
campaign" by demanding a manual recount and urging his supporters to take
to the streets in peaceful protests. Calling the vote "a success story
and a model for other nations," the editors concluded that it's "difficult
to overstate the irresponsibility of Mr. López Obrador's actions."
Days after the election, the New York Times irresponsibly declared candidate
Calderón the winner, even though no victor had been declared under Mexican
law, and just this week, in an
article about López Obrador's protests, the Times reported that López
Obrador had "escalated his campaign to undo official results."
But there are no "official" results and probably won't be until after
Sept. 1. Under Mexican law, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) is charged
with running the elections and counting the vote. But only the country's Election
Tribunal, known by its Mexican nickname as the "TRIFE," has the power
to declare a victor (See here
for background on the TRIFE). They have until Sept. 6 to rule on the election.
It appears that the U.S. media has become so enamored with the construct of
the "anti-democratic" left in Latin America -- the ubiquitous "fiery
populists" (a term that has described everyone from the centrist Lula da
Silva to Hugo Chávez) -- that they are incapable of fulfilling their
basic mandate to inform their readers when it comes to the political landscape
south of the border. It's nothing short of journalistic malpractice.
But back in the real world, a growing body of credible evidence from mainstream
Mexican journalists, independent election observers and respected scholars indicates
that an attempt was made to deliver the presidency to Calderón. It includes
a pattern of irregularities at the polls, interference by the ruling party and
some very suspicious statistical patterns in the "official" results.
The TRIFE is now sifting through 900 pages of formal complaints lodged by López
Obrador. Their ruling on those challenges will indicate how well México's
electoral process holds up in a closely fought and highly polarized race.
Growing evidence of irregularities and fraud
México has a history of the party in power's using its clout to tip
the election in its favor, and strict laws prohibiting ruling party interference
were enacted in the 1990s. Election law prevented Vicente Fox, the outgoing
PAN president, from making public statements of a partisan or political nature.
But he overstepped this line many times in the 2006 campaign, including dozens
of speeches reinforcing candidate Felipe Calderón's basic message that
López Obrador was a "danger to México." In a well-publicized
speech, candidate López Obrador responded, "With all respect, Mr.
President, shut up. You sound like a chattering bird." Fox continued with
these speeches until election authorities and public commentators warned Fox
he was violating election laws.
The Fox administration also ran public service announcements touting government
programs and services and promoting the vote. PAN saturated the television airwaves
with "swift-boat" style attack ads against López Obrador, comparing
him to Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and calling him a "danger to México."
Election authorities eventually ordered these commercials off the air on the
grounds that they were untrue and maligned the candidate's character, but critics
believe they moved too slowly.
Under Mexican law, ruling party interference is a serious charge and grounds
for annulling an election. In the last ten years, the same Electoral Tribunal
judges that are reviewing AMLO's complaints annulled governors' races in Tabasco
and Colima, based on ruling party interference. The Institutional Revolution
Party (PRI), which ruled México for seven decades before the system was
reformed in the 1990s, made vote buying and voter coercion into a high art form,
and there is strong evidence that they were up to their old tricks in the 2006
election. With PRI governors in 17 of México's 31 states, election observers
documented a significant number of examples of voters being offered money or
receiving food or building materials in exchange for their PRI vote. In a country
where half the citizens live in poverty and rely on different forms of government
assistance, voters are often told that their public assistance is dependent
on voting for the party in power. There are examples of PAN using similar practices,
especially a well-documented case of funds diverted from a San Luis Potosi building
program into PAN electoral races.
The Mexican electoral system has come a long way in two decades in implementing
anti-fraud systems. But there are still several ways that results can be tampered
with on election day. López Obrador's campaign and hundreds of independent
election observers documented several hundred cases of "old fashioned"
election-day fraud in making their case for a recount.
Here's how the system was supposed to work. On July 2, Mexicans voted at over
130,000 different polling stations, casting separate ballots for president,
senator and federal deputy. Each political party was encouraged to have registered
poll watchers at every polling station to observe the voting process and count
at the end of the day. As international and Mexican election observers noted,
however, problems emerged when there weren't enough independent and party observers
to go around. In regions where one party was dominant, this created opportunities
for vote shaving, ballot stuffing, lost ballots and other forms of fraud.
The PRD's strongest case for a recount comes from the fact that ballots in
almost one-third of the country were not counted in the presence of independent
observers. One analysis of IFE results found that there were 2,366 polling places
where only a PAN observer was present. In these districts, Calderón beat
López Obrador by a whopping 71-21 margin.
Other elements of PRD's legal challenge include documentation of several ballot
boxes found in dumps in the PRD stronghold of México City. They also
point to evidence such as the nonpartisan Civic Alliance's report documenting
17 polling sites in PAN-dominated Nuevo León, Michoacan and Querétaro,
where the number of votes cast vastly exceeded the number of registered voters
at a site.
Reports by international and domestic election observers affiliated with the
Civic Alliance and Global Exchange stop short of claiming fraud in the elections.
They laud the dedication of most poll workers they monitored and the preparations
for the vote in most of the polling places, as well as the orderly and peaceful
process overall. But the cumulative evidence is damning in such a closely contested
In the weeks after the election, PRD observers again sounded the alarm as sealed
ballot packets were being illegally opened at IFE district offices in several
PAN-dominated regions. PRD officials accused IFE officials of possibly tampering
with ballots or attempting to cover up fraud in the event of a recount. The
TRIFE ordered these offices to stop opening vote packets.
While the López Obrador campaign has not made major charges of "cyber
fraud," there is an emerging controversy over the IFE's role in reporting
who was ahead in the vote count. For the 2006 election, the IFE had developed
a sophisticated system to provide preliminary results called the PREP. Relying
on results being phoned in from a sample of precincts, the IFE could compile
a credible picture of the vote. If the PREP showed one candidate with a clear
majority, the system would have allowed Mexicans to go to sleep on election
night knowing who their next president would be. But because of the razor close
results, the PREP proved to be an inadequate measure.
Now research is emerging to suggest that the PREP results were cooked to create
the appearance of a Calderón victory. Physicist Jorge López at
the University of Texas, El Paso, conducted a statistical analysis of the PREP
results and found that, as the results came in, the differential between the
candidates' totals remained almost constant. One would expect that, as results
from each party's geographic strongholds were counted, the gap between their
totals would rise and would fall. In such a tight election, one would even expect
the lead to change back and forth as the count progressed. None of that happened.
The results of a third candidate, Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI), fluctuated as expected.
He also noted that there was very little deviation between the actual results
as they came in and the average results; in a normal, natural distribution,
one would expect significant differences between the two (it should look something
like a squashed bell-shaped curve). Dr. López concluded the pattern was
"a clear indication that the data was manufactured by an algorithm and
does not stand a chance at passing as data originated at the actual voting."
Luis Mochan, a physicist at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México,
did similar work. He noted that the PREP data was posted after the first 10,000
reports had been processed, and looked at whether those first 10,000 reports
were consistent with the statistical trends for the rest of the day. When he
plotted the data backwards, Calderón's vote total originated at zero,
as is normal, but López Obrador began the day 126,000 votes in the hole.
Mochan and López both point out that the Calderón began the day
building a large percentage lead -- seven points -- that decreased steadily
throughout the day. The large early lead would have been handy from a psychological
and political perspective, allowing Calderón to claim that he led all
day long, but the results had to end in a close result given that polls conducted
a week before the tally showed a statistical dead heat.
Mochan also notes gross discrepancies in the number of votes processed late
in the evening: "At the end of the plot, we find intervals with more than
1,200 votes per [voting] booth. I understand that no booth was to receive more
than 750 votes. Even more worrisome, some data points indicate a negative number
of votes per booth."
Mochan notes that these statistical anomalies aren't definitive proof of anything.
But economist James Galbraith, reviewing Mochan's data, speculated
about a likely scenario that would fit the discrepancies seen that night:
Felipe Calderón started the night with an advantage in total votes,
a gift from the authorities.
As the count progressed, this advantage was maintained by misreporting of
the actual results. This enabled Calderón to claim that he had led
through the entire process -- an argument greatly repeated but spurious in
any case because it is only the final count that matters.
Toward the end of the count, further adjustments were made to support the
appearance of a victory by Calderón.
Critics suggest that the IFE may have aggressively pushed to swiftly declare
Calderón a victor, obviating the need for a poll-by-poll vote recount.
The U.S. media was also confused on the Wednesday after the vote when the IFE
ordered all 300 district offices to review the tally sheets. It was widely reported
as a "recount," when in fact very few ballots were actually counted.
In some cases, such as when a tally sheet was illegible, the sealed ballot packets
where opened and recounted. Almost every time that occurred, observers encountered
significant errors in the vote count. In the state of México, one tally
sheet recorded 88 votes for López Obrador when the recount of ballots
found 188 votes. Whether it was human error or intentional vote shaving, in
a tight election race, these examples gain heightened significance.
None of these reports in and of themselves constitute a smoking gun. But the
questions they raise need to be answered. There is far more evidence pointing
to fraud in the Mexican elections in 2006 than was made publicly available about
Ukraine's contested vote in 2004. Comparing the media and political establishment's
reactions to the two reveals the transparent dishonesty in backing Calderón's
claim of victory; in 2004 many of the same voices that are now calling López
Obrador "undemocratic" were screaming that the Ukrainian tally had
to be annulled and only a new election would assure democracy in the former
Soviet satellite. In both instances, the candidate who declared victory was
friendly towards a powerful neighboring state; in 2004 that state was Russia,
and two years later it's the United States. Forget about threatening México's
fragile democratic institutions -- that makes all the difference to the editorial
boards of the New York Times and the Washington Post.
According to the Mexican daily La Journada, over two million supporters of
López Obrador gathered in México City on Sunday, July 30, the
largest public demonstration in México's history. Millions of voices
chanted "vote by vote, poll by poll," calling on the Electoral Tribunal
to order a recount. A poll released this week found that Mexicans, by a 20-point
margin (48-28), want a vote-by-vote count. López Obrador has said he
will call off protests when the Tribunal agrees to a recount and will honor
its final decision.
As for the charge in the U.S. media that López Obrador is undermining
democracy and the rule of law by calling on his supporters to protest, we believe
that the rights of peaceful assembly and free speech are important democratic
tenets. Public protests have played a historic part in México's three
decade-long transition to democracy.
President and PAN leader Vicente Fox called for direct action when he believed
he was victimized by electoral fraud in his race for the governorship of Guanajuato
in 1991. Fox called on thousands of supporters to take to the streets and block
highways, and the results were eventually overturned. Asked before the 2000
presidential election if he would do the same thing if he suspected fraud, he
didn't hesitate to say "we will be very alert to any irregularities, and
we will submit the appropriate legal accusations that are necessary. If there
is any instability [as a result of those accusations], it will be due to whatever
they have done fraudulently to avoid recognizing our victory."
While Calderón has opposed a ballot-by-ballot recount, even some of
his staunchest supporters have argued that the process would assure Mexicans'
faith in their electoral authorities and strengthen the country's young democracy.
In a race where over 64 percent of Mexicans voted against him, Calderón,
if he should prove victorious, will need all the legitimacy he can muster.
As México awaits the rulings of the electoral tribunal, tensions are
high. The campaign -- often dirty -- and the close results have polarized the
country. Given the context, the U.S. media's water-carrying for Calderón's
campaign is anything but helpful. The fact that there have been no "official"
results is not open to dispute, and until AMLO's allegations have been investigated,
there is no way that anyone can say who will come out ahead.
Chuck Collins is the co-author of "Economic
Apartheid in America: A Primer on Economic Inequality and Insecurity"
(New Press). He is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy
Studies and lives in Oaxaca, México. Joshua Holland
is an AlterNet staff writer.
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