Update on Mexico’s Disputed Election

The next few days could herald a decisive outcome for left-leaning presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the post-electoral quandary, which has deeply affected Mexico for almost two months. As the election tribunal (TEPJF) prepares to announce its final ruling concerning its electoral investigation which began on August 16, Mexico is characterized by an all-pervasive tension.

In the meantime, the TEPJF has released some official reviews of the partial recount of the congressional vote. Contrary to some expectations, in one voting district, it gives a slight advantage to a supporter of rightwing contender, Felipe Calderón. If those reviews are subsequently validated, Lopez Obrador’s coalition (Por el Bien de Todos) will lose one of its seats in the Chamber of Deputies to the Alianza Por Mexico, a coalition composed of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) and Green Party (PVEM – Partido Verde Ecologista de Mexico).

According to Professor Raúl Ávila, the former coordinator of International Affairs at Mexico’s Federal Electoral Tribunal, “a tremendous transition of paradigm” has occurred and has transformed a once authoritarian juridical culture into a freer and less formal process with a more representative sense of justice. By all accounts, a final resolution to Mexico’s troubled days depends on TEPJF’s ultimate verdict. Indeed, the Electoral Tribunal must verify that the electoral procedure has followed all relevant democratic procedures in order to effectively legitimize the July 2 presidential election. Secondly, the TEPJF’s role is to assess the validity of the individual allegations of electoral malfeasance that were submitted to its judges. These officials must determine if such discrepancies are sufficient to alter the July 2 results. It is only after the meticulous examination of these electoral complaints that the TEPJF will either confirm Calderón’s victory or declare the annulment of the presidential elections.

For many Mexican observers, a call for new national elections is extremely unlikely. Experts in electoral law appear quite confident that the TEPJF will confirm Calderón as the next elected president. If the Federal Tribunal indeed fails to name a president-elect, Congress must appoint an interim president until new elections are held . A major issue may arise if López Obrador refuses to acknowledge the Tribunal’s judicial authority. He recently alleged that the seven magistrates of the Federal Tribunal had received bribes from the PAN. However, López Obrador’s frequent sensational allegations are not always supported by reliable external evidence. This has tarnished his image as a responsible political leader. Additionally, his initial broad base of support has somewhat eroded, which can readily be seen by the diminished number of demonstrators present in the streets of Mexico City.

Furthermore, the loss of many of his more moderate supporters has radicalized AMLO’s campaign. Some of his militant followers have made it clear that they will resort to arms in a struggle to overthrow Calderón, if he is seated. Some fear that the present electoral melee could lead to outright civil war. This scenario is hardly conceivable for López Obrador, who would not be able to count on the Mexican Army’s support, making it all but impossible for him to take power through extra-legal means. As Sergio Sarmiento, a well-known Mexican columnist pointed out, at a recent Center for Strategic and International Studies conference, if AMLO attempts fail, he will not hesitate to make everybody else’s life miserable for the next six years.

In addition, AMLO’s spirited strategy is diminishing some his support within the PRD. Some prominent members have already distanced themselves from his movement, among these, is Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, the founder of the PRD who was robbed of the presidency in the 1988 presidential elections. He recently urged López Obrador to abide by the tribunal’s decision, whatever it may be. Some PRD members have raised doubts over AMLO’s continued stubbornness over the matter; others are questioning whether his actions have compromised PRD’s future prospects in the 2012 presidential race, if the Tribunal decides against him. With AMLO’s refusal to accept defeat, even if it is backed by an overwhelming amount of proof that in fact, Calderon has edged him over; the time may have arrived for him to rethink his strategy in this increasingly dangerous and polarized environment. If not, he risks losing important allies now and conceivably in the next presidential race.

Illustrative of how every year the Mexican electorate may be split, August 20, state elections in Chiapas attracted Mexico’s attention in a razor-thin competition between PRD candidate Juan Sabines and his PRI rival José Antonio Aguilar Bodegas. According to the preliminary count – which covered 94.3 percent of the polling stations- Sabines came out only 0.22 percent (or 2,405 votes) ahead of Bodegas. Aguilar Bodegas, following AMLO’s example, has refused to accept defeat, arguing that the TEPJF has not counted returns from polling stations where anomalies had been reported. Even, at that point, it is hard to predict what will be AMLO’s next move. The recent balloting in Chiapas will certainly not weaken AMLO’s commitment to a full recount of the electoral votes.

In a recently given interview with German journalists, President Vicente Fox made an unexpected statement referring to Felipe Calderón as the next president of Mexico. This premature assertion, although aimed at down-playing López Obrador’s persistent protests over the vote count, further revived AMLO’s otherwise flagging campaign. Fox’s decision to declare Calderón the winner exemplifies his possibly over-exaggerated confidence in the way the upcoming TEPJF decision -that will be officially released on September 6- will go. It should be mentioned that the announcement was not specifically directed at a Mexican audience. It is also possible that Fox’s words have unintentionally revealed his own uncertainties concerning the Court’s final conclusion. Nevertheless, until TEPJF officially releases its decision, it is certain that Mexico’s two main political protagonists will continue to pepper the Mexican media with a highly symbolic “war of words,” comprised of somewhat boastful and self-serving declarations