When US voters consider electoral fraud, George W. Bush’s questionable victory in Florida in 2000 is the paradigm of a stolen election. But here the reference point is the presidential election of 1988 when, on election night, government officials announced that the “system has fallen,” alluding to the alleged crash of vote-tabulating computers. When the “system” came back up after a ten-day ellipse, Harvard-educated neo-liberal and fair-trader Carlos Salinas de Gortari, the candidate of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was declared the winner over leftist Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas. Few believed the results and hundreds of Cárdenas supporters were killed in the political violence and street protests that followed.
On Monday, the Mexican electoral system did not collapse–it simply went to sleep. In a dramatic pronouncement near midnight, Federal Electoral Institute President Luis Carlos Ugalde called the preliminary count too close to call and declared that no further results would be available until Wednesday at the earliest–and perhaps for many weeks to come.
Under the PRI’s seven-decade reign, the period between election day and the official declaration of a winner–always a member of the PRI–was utilized to cook the final results. Now under the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) and with outgoing president Vicente Fox calling the shots, the abuse of state power is once again evident.
Sunday’s presidential balloting was perhaps the most consequential election since the 1910 Mexican revolution. Felipe Calderón, Fox’s would-be successor, stands with the fat cats. His leftist opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, often referred to by his initials AMLO, is an unabashed champion of the poor. Calderón is a fervent believer in neo-liberal globalization and advances policies that would deepen Mexico’s political and economic servility to Washington.
Lopez Obrador is demanding renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and seeks to strengthen Mexico’s ties to Latin America where leftists in various shades now govern much of the continent–a scenario that Washington has sought to avoid at all cost. Lopez Obrador is perhaps more ideologically aligned with Chile’s Michelle Bachelet, a free-market “socialist”, than he is with Venezuelan firebrand Hugo Chávez, as Calderón and the PAN have often charged.
Even since Lopez Obrador became the front-runner for the presidency in 2006 three years ago, Fox and his accomplices in the PRI (which ran a dismal third July 2) have tried to disqualify his candidacy and have even sought to bar him from the ballot; the campaign was dropped after Lopez Obrador put a million protestors into the streets of Mexico City, a megalopolis of which he was a wildly popular mayor. Similarly, the Federal Election Institute has exhibited a striking bias against Lopez Obrador and favored the PAN’s Felipe Calderón in one decision after another. Mexico’s two-headed television and radio monopoly–Televisa and TV Azteca–have tilted towards Calderón from the onset of the campaign, transmitting the message that Lopez Obrador is a danger to Mexico in nightly newscasts and an array of “Get AMLO” spots designed by such carpetbaggers as Fox News comentator Dick Morris and Antonio Sola, hit man for Spain’s former right-wing prime minister José Maria Aznar.
Nonetheless, Lopez Obrador went into Election Day with a small lead in reputable polls; exit polling seems to have confirmed a slender victory, although the Federal Electoral Institute has been reluctant to discuss the numbers. Whether Fox, the Electoral Institute and their handlers in Washington will accept Lopez Obrador’s victory is what is likely being discussed behind locked doors at Los Pinos, Mexico’s White House, and the US Embassy on Paseo de Reforma here in downtown Mexico City.
The similarities to 1988 are positively eerie. On election night, tens of thousands of Lopez Obrador’s supporters gathered in the dark on the great Zocalo plaza and remembered that terrible time. “Fraude electoral!” they chanted over and over again and AMLO himself pledged that 2006 would not be a replay of 1988.
While Fox, the PAN and the business and political classes call for Mexicans to remain calm until the results are finally known, Lopez Obrador will not have an easy time containing his supporters if Calderón is declared the winner. On the morning after Sunday’s election, a US reporter out for coffee in the old quarter of this city spoke with a hotel handyman, a local street sweeper, a newspaper vender, a cab driver, and two senior citizens like himself. All of them, with more or less vehemence, considered the election to have been stolen. “They won’t get away with it this time–this isn’t 1988,” an elderly gentleman in a straw sombrero rumbled while wolfing down breakfast at the Cafe La Blanca.
Or will they? After the election was stolen from Cárdenas in 1988, hundreds of his followers were gunned down by PRI pistoleros. On election eve 2006, two PRD poll watchers were shot and killed in conflict-ridden Guerrero state in what public officials called an “attempted robbery.” That is exactly the way the killing began in 1988.