Changing polls can’t thwart democracy

For the first time that my grandmother can remember, the President of Mexico was forced to give the traditional Sept. 15 “Grito” not from his balcony in the presidential palace, but 200 kilometers north in the small town of Dolores Hidalgo, where the historical independence movement began. Thousands of supporters of the Partido de la Revolucion Democratica presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, had sequestered the Zocalo, the main plaza in Mexico City where the chief executive’s office is located.

This was not the first time Obrador’s partisans acted forcefully against President Vicente Fox. Sept. 1, the PRD’s congressmen impeded Fox’s delivery of the State of the Union address by rushing the podium. Supposedly, this was a protest against measures taken by the federal government to prevent hostile popular takeover of the grounds; it is ironic, given that the PRD had already set up camp and was obstructing transit in some of the capital’s key avenues. These protesters’ wildly unpopular siege of the city has been lifted under mounting pressure and dwindling popularity, but Obrador shows no signs of recognizing his defeat in the July 2 elections.

As the countdown to Election Day progressed, polls began to show Obrador’s lead fading while the PAN’s candidate, Felipe Calderon, rose in voter’s preferences. Even after the election results were in, Obrador claimed he had actually won the election.

Fraud is unlikely under the present electoral system. In Mexico’s democracy, it is not the government, but citizens who are in charge of counting votes. The votes at each of the 130,000 or so polling stations are counted under the witness of representatives from each of the parties, who must then sign off on the official count, which is publicly available.

Despite mounting evidence against the case for fraud, Obrador continues to insist on it. When the PRD presented alleged proof of fraud to Mexico’s electoral tribunal, the court ordered a recount of 11,839 ballot boxes (or 9.2 percent of the total; mostly in PAN strongholds). But afterwards, the gap between the PAN and PRD candidates had been closed by a mere 0.02 percent of the total vote. A recount at this point would be unnecessary anyway, given that Obrador was proclaimed president of Mexico Sept. 16 by the National Democratic Convention. Obrador “humbly accepted” the office and took advantage of the opportunity to continue his diatribe against Mexico’s electoral institutions, the PAN, Fox, Calderon and, of course, the media.

Obrador’s resolve to undermine Mexico’s nascent democracy and the PRD’s insistence on following him doggedly in this political suicide is nothing less than tragic in the face of the excellent results their party had in these most recent elections. The PRD, a distant third in the 2000 elections, nearly duplicated its representation in Congress and is now a solid second power. Given the PAN only has a relative majority and must therefore seek to build alliances and consensus, the PRD is in an excellent position to push its agenda through democratic means. I agree with Jordan Trevino (“Mexico’s current version of democracy not sustainable,” 9/15) that the issue of economic inequality must be brought to the forefront of the national agenda. Unfortunately, Mexican society is one in which the wealthy and connected are few, while the poor and underprivileged are many more. Certainly there is much to be done to resolve this issue, but to equate the ambitions of one candidate to the solution of all our problems while demonizing the opposition is a highly cynical position to assume.

For Obrador and the PRD to continue down the same road will be to radicalize their ever-smaller core of supporters while alienating the population at large. Already, many key leftist intellectuals such as Carlos Monsivais and Carlos Fuentes have distanced themselves from the candidate while Cuahtemoc Cardenas, the PRD’s founder and three-time presidential contender, gives him nothing more than a lukewarm ambiguity. Trevino suggests Mexico’s democracy is not sustainable, but what is truly unsustainable is Obrador’s incessant whining. Fox’s strategy has been to avoid the use of public force. Meanwhile, the PRD can either continue to support Obrador and watch a legitimate political party deform into a social movement, or they can pack up their tents and push their agenda through loyal opposition. Obrador can huff and puff all he wants, but Mexico’s democracy is here to stay.

Gerardo Giacoman is a sophomore in Morse College. He is the vice president of the Yale Mexican Student Organization.

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