17 July 2006

Election protests step up a gear

Photograph by: F. Sanchez

Supporters of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador gather in downtown Guadalajara last weekend to demand a recount, “vote by vote,” of the closely contested July 2 presidential election.


While Felipe Calderon behaved like a president in waiting, his political opponent Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador continued pressing for a vote-by-vote recount and contesting the election results in both the judicial system and the court of public opinion. The latter strategy sputtered earlier this week after the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) candidate presented faulty evidence and later accused some of his supporters of betrayal.

Even with the missteps, the tense atmosphere surrounding the disputed election outcome shows no signs of abating. The PRD appealed the results of approximately 50,000 of the Republic’s 130,496 voting stations to a special election tribunal (TRIFE). The party also waged a publicity campaign, citing election facts and figures – releasing red herrings in the eyes of critics – purportedly proving a PRD advantage. Lopez Obrador also beckoned his party’s faithful to Mexico City’s Zocalo (town square) for a second rally in eight days, where he promised to once again reveal damning information about the election process, which he and his supporters call “a fraud.”

Lopez Obrador, who according to the IFE lost by 236,006 votes, unveiled some of his first allegations of fraud last Monday, airing video footage of an election worker in Guanajuato supposedly stuffing a ballot box.

The IFE later reported that the tape was recorded after the polling station closed and that observers from four parties – including the PRD – vouched for the results. The worker said he was simply depositing ballots that had been stuffed into the wrong boxes.

Unfazed and sounding conspiratorial, Lopez Obrador turned on his campaign workers, accusing unspecified PRD representatives of accepting bribes.

“Not all of the representatives acted with integrity,” he said on Tuesday.

The PRD polling-station observer in Salamanca, Guanajuato, Juliana Barron Vallejo, 19, denied being bought.

“I can’t believe he says that,” she told the Mural newspaper. “Nobody offered me money.”

PRD officials in Queretaro and Guanajuato later acknowledged paying observers 100 to 300 pesos for representing the party at polling stations.

International election observers from the European Union, the United States and Canada all described the elections as fair and transparent.

Felipe Calderon, meanwhile, put the tight, but still unofficial election result behind him. He acted presidential, fielding congratulatory phone calls from world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, U.S. President George Bush and Spanish President Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. He also named a transition team, unveiled a new logo featuring presidential colors and announced plans for a nationwide tour. Calderon spoke of creating a coalition government, but the PRD balked at the idea, citing lingering bitterness from the presidential campaign in which Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) branded Lopez Obrador, “A danger for Mexico.”

The PRD insisted on recounting all of the more than 40 million ballots cast on July 2, something forbidden by Mexican election laws passed in 1996. The TRIFE could order some polling station results recounted. It could also annul the results, similar to the 2000 and 2003 situations in Tabasco and Colima respectively.

To press his case for a recount, Lopez Obrador called for a march on the capital, which culminates on the morning of Sunday July 16. Delegations of PRD members in every state set out last week on foot, horseback and virtually every type of vehicle imaginable for the capital. The Jalisco delegation, led by PRD gubernatorial candidate Enrique Ibarra, left Guadalajara on Thursday morning.

“I’m marching so that the electoral process is respected ... so it gets cleaned up,” said Juan Carlos Alcaraz, a lemon farmer from Tecoman, Colima, sporting a wide-brim hat, yellow PRD T-shirt, a flag and well-worn sandals.

Alcaraz cited his own polling station, which opened two hours late, as proof of election chicanery.

“A lot of people didn’t vote because they had to wait so long,” he explained. “Many people left.”

Although noisy and passionate, Alcaraz said demonstrations in support of Lopez Obrador would stay non-violent.

Felipe Calderon disparaged the idea of mass protests against the election result, telling a press conference last week, “Elections are won in the ballot boxes. They’re not won in the streets.”

Most PAN supporters shrugged when asked about the PRD demonstrations, which were somewhat low-key in Jalisco, one of Mexico’s most conservative states. The PAN’s national committee urged its members to avoid confrontations.

“People have the right to free expression so long as it’s peaceful,” said Carlos Gamboa, who was cleaning up PAN campaign signage in Guadalajara.

Approximately 200 PRD supporters marched in Guadalajara last Saturday night, including Antonio Gonzalez, an unemployed farm administrator, who used chewing gum as an adhesive on his glasses.

“I’m here protesting because of the fraud we’re witnessing,” he explained, adding he had a hard time believing Lopez Obrador ever trailed in the race.

He compared the situation to last spring’s desafuero, which sought to strip Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, of his immunity from prosecution – and thus deny him a spot on the presidential ballot. The process was aborted after Lopez Obrador mobilized massive street demonstrations. Many protesters pinned red, white and green anti-desafuero ribbons to their shirts last Saturday night.

Unlike others in attendance that night, Gonzalez wouldn’t guarantee peaceful protests, saying, “What we’re going to see happen is a massive civil resistance because the government isn’t going to accept a recount. It could be extremely violent.”

He added, “A lot of people have nothing to lose.”

From the Guadalajara Reporter

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