A Matter of Trust - The July 5 Mexican Legislative Elections

A Three Part Series Part 1

In the wake of Felipe Calderon’s surprising electoral win over Andrés Manual Lopez-Obrador in 2006 Presidential Elections, demonstrators protesting alleged election fraud occupied the center of Mexico City from July through December. On three occasions, crowds of over one million were reported. Image: Erasmo Lopez

Michael Collins and Kenneth Thomas

"Se requiere que las ciudadanos no estén ausentes ante una clase política que, desde el punto de vista ciudadano, no ha respondido y claramente ha fallado," dijo el Presidente de la República. Sociedad civil confronta a los poderes de la Unión El Universal, June 25, 2009

Translation: "It is necessary that the citizens not be seated behind a political class which, from the citizen’s point of view, clearly has failed," said the President of the Republic. (President of Mexico, Felipe Calderon El Universal, June 25, 2009)

"Independent analysis of the early vote reports indicated that there was little relationship between actual precinct totals and those reported by the Federal Electoral Institute, the IFE.  .  .  .  A graph of the initial results also revealed an odd statistical curve that looked more like the result of a computer algorithm rather than real vote totals."

Every once in a while, a politician tells the unvarnished truth. It's difficult to recall the last time it happened. Outgoing president Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1961 warning of the dangers of the U.S. military-industrial complex comes to mind. Ike told the truth but too late to matter since he was leaving power. President Calderon is just three years into his six year term as President of Mexico. Just two days prior to Calderon's statement, Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (ALMO), Calderon's opponent in the bitterly contested 2006 presidential election, had filed a complaint against the media conglomerate owned television network, Televisa. Obrador argued that Televisa has shown extraordinary bias against his party, the PRD. Candidates are entitled to make complaints about biased coverage to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) created as part of Mexico's 1990 election reform law. Obrador said:

"I stand in front of you because you are the owners of Televisa and because you form part of the power elite in Mexico.

"I have considered... that you may disagree with my certainty that the national tragedy is the fault of a group which is guilty of acquiring enormous wealth through the employment of public power, and at the cost of suffering for the majority of the Mexican people." El Universal, June 23, 2009

ALMO's point reflects the fact that Televisa is owned and run by one of the twenty families, the wealthiest people in Mexico who dominate the political and economic life of Mexicans.

As their parties approach the 2009 legislative elections, the opponents from the bitterly contested 2006 presidential election seem to suddenly agree. Calderon's "political class," which he says has failed the people, rules "at the bequest of" Mexico's narrow moneyed elite, the class that the "leftist" Lopez-Obrador is accusing of biased coverage in the congressional campaign.

In the speech quoted in the opening of this article, Calderon admits "that the situation in place in matters of security and justice "is, without doubt, a consequence of many of our omissions, of indolence, of corruption, of illegality and of impunity' "June 25, 2009.

"Who can the Mexican people trust?”

The 2006 Mexican presidential election set the stage for this year's July 5 national election for Mexico's bicameral Congress of the Union consisting of the Chamber of Representatives (500 members) and the Senate (128 members). As of June 25, 2009, the two major candidates for president in 2006 see the election system as biased and flawed. ALMO's affirmation is explicit and Calderon says that the problems are related to class issues.

Numerous irregularities in 2006 raised suspicions. ALMO ran an effective campaign and was expected to win. Independent analysis of the early vote reports indicated that there was little relationship between actual precinct totals and those reported by the Federal Electoral Institute, the IFE.

A graph of the initial results also revealed an odd statistical curve that looked more like the result of a computer algorithm rather than real vote totals. Less than a week after the election, after analyzing this data Jorge A. López, Ph.D., a physics professor at the University of Texas, El Paso, concluded that, "The bottom line is that the data presented is ill, so ill that it appears to have been given artificial life by a computer algorithm."

That finding is of interest because the brother-in-law of PAN candidate Calderon was the contract to program the IFE vote reporting system.

The flood of election irregularities added up to election fraud for millions of Mexicans. Over the second half of 2006, many demonstrated and met in Mexico City to plan and implement an alternative government in Mexico's federal region, a right guaranteed in the Mexican Constitution.

How can Mexican citizens trust the electoral process to reflect their will? And why should they?

In the 1988 presidential contest, when it was apparent that his party would lose their first presidential election in decades, PRI President Miguel de la Madrid arbitrarily stopped vote counting and simply announced that the losing candidate (from his party), Carlos Salinas de Gortari, had been elected president of Mexico. de la Madrid told this story in a 2004 autobiography, 16 years after the election. The people of Mexico and the popular Mexico City mayor, Cuauhtémoc Cardenas, representing what is now known as the PRD, had the presidency stolen from them by the direct admission of the election thief. New York Times, Mar 9, 2004

The belated confession by de la Madrid is another moment of unvarnished truth.

As a result of the scandal of 1988, just according to what was known at the time, the Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE (Federal Electoral Institute) was formed based on the input from European specialists. The 1994 and 2000 presidential elections, along with the 1997 legislative contests, were seen as honest vote counts.

But there is still a major theme of distrust running through the Mexican electorate. Why else would the IFE official in charge of the 2006 election, Luis Carlos Ugalde, make these comments about the current electoral system?

"In place of representing the voice of the citizenry, it strengthens the political parties, constricts the freedom of expression and the spaces available for participation, this is to say, it is oppressive, hidden from public view, that it works with political propositions but that it has come to hand the power to speak to analysts who are for economic change before electoral change, the first insufficient, the second oppressive." El Universal, June 23, 2009

However, amidst his inspiring rhetoric, Ugalde failed to mention the many charges against IFE, the government agency he ran, in what is still thought of by many citizens as a stolen election.

High Stakes in the Election for Congress

In 2009, the stakes couldn't be higher for Mexico's citizens.

The country is running out of funds and may need $50 billion just to get through 2010.

A domestic war between the government and narco-traffickers rages through the nation. At least 12,000, likely many more, have been killed since 2007 in an extension of the U.S. war on drugs.

Migration out of Mexico has reached nearly 800,000 a year. The remaining labor force is strapped with taxes to cover the functions of federal, state, and local governments. There is inbound migration from the United States due to the economic collapse and absence of work.

Different sections of the nation are demanding more autonomy from the federal system for a variety of reasons, one being the control of some local and state governments by narco traffickers.

A dynamic legislature and an open political system, with the energy and ability to tackle these problems, are absolutely vital to rescue Mexico from the combined threats of economic, political and social collapse.

Trust is of the essence but will there be even enough trust to generate even a decent turnout?

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Part 2 will offer an elaboration of the challenges facing Mexico and the solutions offered by the three major parties and the lesser state and regionally based political groups.

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