Ruling Party’s Credibility Erodes in Dispute Over Mexico State Election
The credibility that the Institutional Revolutionary Party gained earlier this month after conceding its first governor’s race in 60 years is rapidly eroding with opposition charges that the official party stole a state legislature election in Michoacan.
Leftist leader Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, whose Democratic Revolutionary Party claims to have won a majority of the legislative seats, and the right-wing National Action Party have called for an independent tribunal to review the disputed results of the Michoacan election.
However, the National Action Party said it also distrusts Cardenas’ claim to victory.
“There is so much confusion and scarcity of trustworthy figures that perhaps the only conclusion that can be drawn in Michoacan is that there were no legitimate elections,” National Action President Luis H. Alvarez said this week.
The Michoacan State Electoral Commission has declared that the PRI, as the ruling party is called, won 12 of the 18 direct election seats. The commission is dominated by the official party.
National PRI spokesmen on Friday rejected the proposed independent tribunal as illegal.
“To proceed in that way would be to disavow the respectability of the electoral process,” said Dionisio Perez Jacome, a member of the PRI executive committee.
But Mexico’s electoral process has been fighting for respectability for years. The ruling party has been accused of stealing several local elections, including the mayorship of Mexicali in 1983 and the governorship of Chihuahua state in 1986. The opposition charges that President Carlos Salinas de Gortari did not really win last year’s federal election.
That history of doubt is why the PRI’s loss in Baja California was seen as a major boon to its credibility. A few days after the vote, PRI President Luis Donaldo Colosio conceded his party’s defeat to National Action candidate Ernesto Ruffo Appel.
Colosio’s announcement apparently headed off efforts by state PRI officials to usurp the election. Colosio said that, although painful for the PRI, the loss proved Salinas’ commitment to democratic reforms.
But as the controversy over Michoacan has grown, political analysts have begun to talk of the president’s “selective democracy” in favor of the conservative party.
‘Shadow of Baja’
“I think that Michoacan is the shadow of Baja California,” said Federico Reyes Heroles, a political analyst and member of the PRI’s critical current faction.
“While in the case of Baja California the government managed to show that political will could overcome fraud, in Michoacan it did not. For this to have been a true show of democracy, there would have to have been fair play. It is evident that there weren’t just irregularities in Michoacan, but true electoral crimes,” Reyes Heroles said.
He predicted a PRI-National Action alliance on future economic policy and a new federal electoral law.
At a news conference this week, Cardenas charged the government and ruling party with having annulled ballot boxes with a majority for his party, altered the results of other ballot boxes in favor of the PRI and fabricated results for ballot boxes that were never installed on Election Day.
For example, charged Amalia Garcia, a federal deputy from Cardenas’ party, polling station 10-A was never installed in the village of El Salto and yet the final results gave the PRI 98 votes there. Federal Deputy Leonel Godoy said official results gave the PRI 636 votes in polling station 86 in Paracuaro, although there were only 193 legally registered voters there.
“This demonstrates not selective democracy, but that he who makes electoral decisions uses his personal criteria on which to accept or reject the defeat of his party. It is a selective criteria,” Cardenas said.
On Election Day, each party was to receive a carbon copy of the official tally that is placed into each ballot box for the district-wide count. Cardenas presented his copies of tallies from most of the ballot boxes and called for the PRI to do the same.
PRI official Perez Jacome rejected the call and said the carbon copies are easy to falsify. While Cardenas’ documents may have the “appearance of truth,” he said, they amounted to a “strategy of trickery” by the Democratic Revolutionary Party.
Fraud Charges Denied
Perez Jacome and other PRI officials denied the charges of fraud and said Cardenas supporters were the ones who stole ballot boxes and used violence against PRI voters. They said the commission also annulled ballot boxes where the PRI claimed a majority.
But while the PRI is clearly on the defensive in Michoacan, so is Cardenas struggling to defend his fledgling party. Cardenas broke away from the PRI last year to run against Salinas with a coalition of four parties and won an unprecedented 31% of the official vote count.
Cardenas has since broken with the coalition to form the Democratic Revolutionary Party, known by its initials PRD, and the leader acknowledges that he needs an electoral victory to keep his momentum. Cardenas defended supporters who have blocked federal highways in Michoacan to protest the reputed fraud but said he will work though the legal system to try to prove his party’s victory. He has filed criminal charges against Michoacan officials for allegedly falsifying election documents.
“The Democratic Revolutionary Party is formed by ordinary people,” said Reyes Heroles. “What hope do they have in Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and the PRD if they can’t protect the vote in their home state? This could strangle the PRD.”