70,000 Rally in Mexico to Protest Vote Fraud : Latin America: Opposition leader calls for campaign to prove abuses. ‘The struggle is not over,’ he says.
More than 70,000 angry Mexicans packed the capital’s historic zocalo Saturday to back opposition presidential candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas’ call for a national crusade to prove last Sunday’s elections were fraudulent.
The protest came as the official results were released, confirming that Ernesto Zedillo and his long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party won with less than half of the largest vote in Mexican history.
“The struggle is not over,” Cardenas shouted before a sea of flags, banners and signs in the shadow of the presidential palace. “The Aug. 21 elections came and went, and we still don’t know the results of the election. Today, we cannot declare victory, but neither can we recognize the victory of anyone else.”
The crowd roared, chanting, “The people are tired of compromise” and “Perfect dictatorship, perfect fraud.” Others simply painted the words “No Fraud” on their cheeks.
Billed as a barometer of popular dissent after federal elections that were to be a watershed of Mexican democracy and change, the rally was five times the size of a similar Cardenas protest in the same downtown plaza Monday.
But Saturday’s peaceful gathering was about half the size of Cardenas’ protests in the aftermath of the 1988 elections, when many Mexicans felt that Cardenas clearly had been cheated out of the presidency.
Saturday’s official results from the Federal Electoral Institute confirmed that Zedillo was the first PRI candidate since the governing party came to power in 1929 to fail to win a majority of the vote. The 42-year-old Yale-educated economist drew 48.87% of the vote.
Against that backdrop, the size of Saturday’s protest that filled the zocalo-- and smaller demonstrations denouncing electoral fraud elsewhere in the country--represented a potentially potent force to push Zedillo into carrying out promises of vast government and ruling party reform during a six-year term that will take Mexico into the 21st Century.
The tallies announced by the quasi-independent electoral institute gave second-place Diego Fernandez de Cevallos of the National Action Party (PAN) 26.09% of the vote. Cardenas and his Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) won 16.42%, with six candidates from smaller parties splitting the remainder.
Arturo Nunez, director general of the electoral institute, said those “definitive results” were from 291 of the nation’s 300 electoral districts and 89,731 of the 96,394 precincts, or a total of 92.9% of Mexico’s unprecedented 77.5% voter turnout. The handful of remaining ballots, a commission source said, will be confirmed by the end of today but will not substantially change the result.
From the stage in the zocalo-- beneath a banner proclaiming “For dignity! For electoral cleansing!"-- Cardenas attempted to detail what he called extensive fraud that cast doubt on all the electoral commission’s results.
In rural areas and impoverished neighborhoods of the capital, he said, entire precincts became ruling party “voter carousels” where local party officials used intimidation and threats to sway the vote.
One 40-year-old poll watcher in Saturday’s crowd said she and other pro-Cardenas observers watched powerlessly as local political bosses manufactured votes and threatened them with violence if they protested.
Although some such abuses were confirmed by independent Mexican poll watchers and international visitors authorized to witness the election, most said they did not believe they affected an outcome in which Zedillo won nearly double the votes of his closest rival.
But Cardenas continued to attack the electoral process itself Saturday. In describing what Western experts on Mexican democracy have called “an uneven playing field,” he attacked the ruling party bias of television and radio stations that depend upon the government for their broadcast concessions.
Cardenas also asserted that, despite attempts by President Carlos Salinas de Gortari to enact campaign financing reforms before the elections, one ruling party senatorial candidate from the capital spent in a single campaign the same amount Cardenas’ PRD spent nationwide for all its campaigns.
“A great mobilization is necessary to gather documented proof, records, altered ballots, missing ballots and testimony from various districts of each electoral crime committed,” Cardenas declared, indicating the opposition’s frustration in documenting its week-old claim of massive fraud.
“We are organizing truth committees in each city, town, neighborhood, barrio, collective farm and in each of our universities. Send your information and your protests to our campaign headquarters.”
But Cardenas stressed that the post-election protest campaign must be peaceful. “We do not want violence,” he declared.
“Understand well,” he shouted to deafening applause, “we are not looking for power at any price. We want a Mexico without lies, a Mexico without a party of the state, without corruption . . . (but) the illegality can be overcome only if we adhere to the rigor of the law.”
In reflecting how he now views his post-election role, Cardenas added, “I have an obligation to defend, through all legal resources, the legality of the entire electoral process, as I would my candidacy and my own election.”
That, perhaps more than any other statement during his hourlong address, expressed the frustration that drew many into the zocalo on Saturday. From peasants to business leaders, they viewed the rally as a final resort before accepting the ruling party’s victory.
“We are the forgotten ones,” shouted a weather-beaten peasant farmer in a stained straw hat who identified himself as Alfredo from the state of Michoacan.
“They tell us we have to be calm. I say, ‘No!’ We can’t bear any more of this calm. We, we are campesinos , and we’re working to bring our products here to the markets, and all the middlemen prevent us from selling. . . . Where is the calm? We prefer to die sitting still rather than getting dragged on the ground.”
But few were under the illusion that Saturday’s protest would have much immediate impact on the system that has governed their lives for decades.
“No,” economist Javier Angel answered flatly, cradling his 18-month-old daughter under an umbrella in the afternoon sun, when asked if he believed the demonstration would change the election result. “I think many people are here because they believe that. But there’s really nothing that can be done at this point.
“Why did we come? To support Cuauhtemoc Cardenas. More than anything else, though, it was to learn what was missing from these elections.”
Times researcher Susan Drummet contributed to this report.