Monday, July 10, 2006

Allegations of fraud taint Mexico's presidential election

As we reported on Friday, it looked as though right-wing candidate Felipe Calderon had just barely won the presidency over left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. After counting and re-counting, Calderon led Lopez Obrador by just 0.57 percentage points. But, rightly or wrongly, Lopez Obrador isn't about to concede, let alone give up without a fight. According to the L.A. Times:

Lawyers for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Sunday turned in documented allegations of irregularities that they said cost him the July 2 presidential election, and a senior aide warned that Mexico faces an "insurrection" unless all 41 million ballots are recounted.

The warning by Gerardo Fernandez Noroña, the campaign's chief spokesman, was the most explicit high-level threat that the challenger's struggle to overturn his razor-thin defeat could erupt in civil disobedience and violence.

Lopez Obrador lost by 244,000 votes in the official tally, an average of less than two votes per polling place. His demand for a recount has been resisted by election officials and the apparent winner, Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN.

Let me repeat that: "less than two votes per polling place". The U.S., as we all know, is deeply divided along partisan lines of red and blue. But the U.S. is no Mexico.

The problem here -- if in fact there is a problem -- may lie in "irregular tally sheets". Mexico's "electoral institute recounted ballots from 6,524 of the 130,488 polling stations last week," but "Lopez Obrador contends that the limited recount gained him thousands of votes that previously had been uncounted or voided, raising doubts about the fairness of the entire count."

Is he right? Maybe. Above all, a democratic election, whether in an established democracy like the U.S. or in a newer one like Mexico, must not only be fair but be perceived as fair both by the electorate and by the international community. Right now, there are lingering doubts about the fairness of Mexico's presidential election. Calderon may indeed have won the election, but those doubts need to be addressed. Otherwise, how are Mexicans to have any confidence in the election's outcome? How are they to respect the legitimacy of a Calderon presidency? How are they to be swayed from possible insurrection?

The judges of Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal should initiate a full recount. (We know what can happen when a court stands in the way of a recount, don't we? Is the outcome of such an election ever truly legitimate?)

Democracy, more than any other regime, requires such vigilance.

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