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In Mexico, the results are in

A COUP D’ETAT IS BREWING in Mexico. Even as he runs out of legal ways to challenge the July 2 presidential election results, the contest’s sore loser, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is planning to proclaim himself president and establish a parallel “people’s government” on the national Day of Independence, Sept. 16.

The defiance by the leftist former mayor of Mexico City comes after a unanimous ruling Monday by the nation’s top electoral tribunal, which rejected claims filed by Lopez Obrador’s party of massive fraud. Lopez Obrador, who finished second in the balloting, has been waging an increasingly desperate campaign to have the election nullified. The independent panel of seven electoral justices reviewed 9% of polling places where it had reason to suspect error, and it threw out tens of thousands of ballots.

The net result of the review was to reduce conservative candidate Felipe Calderon’s nearly quarter-million-vote margin by about 4,000 votes. The tribunal has until next Wednesday to certify the election results.

Lopez Obrador’s supporters have shut down much of Mexico City in acts of civil disobedience, and they appear intent on making the country ungovernable. The hope had been to pressure the tribunal into overlooking legal niceties -- reformed election laws defer to the election-day count conducted by citizens chosen at random -- to annul the vote.

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Lopez Obrador and the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, are crying out against the imposition of a president backed by the nation’s business elite, but the whining is misplaced. Lopez Obrador, who obtained roughly a third of the ballots cast, became an activist in the dark days of the autocratic rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, but Mexico’s electoral institutions are now fully independent. There has been no convincing proof of any widespread fraud. The election was conducted by nearly a million citizens selected to serve, and foreign observers have all praised the balloting as exemplary.

Indeed, if there is any threat to democracy in Mexico, it is Lopez Obrador and his sense of entitlement. The vast majority of Mexicans, including many of those who voted for him, find his antics tiresome. But even if only 10% or 15% of the population believes its candidate is being unfairly denied the presidency, it can create quite a bit of havoc if egged on by a demagogue exploiting their sense of victimization.

The next weeks and months pose a different challenge for the country’s democracy, as Lopez Obrador’s supporters will seek to disrupt President Vicente Fox’s final State of the Union address on Friday, as well as Independence Day celebrations later in September. Fox’s government has shown admirable restraint, but Lopez Obrador is hoping for some violent confrontation with federal authorities to score him sorely needed public opinion points.

Meanwhile, it’s time for democratic voices on the left in Mexico to distance themselves from Lopez Obrador’s destructive coup attempt. The likes of Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the PRD’s founder who probably was victimized by electoral fraud in his 1988 bid for the presidency, should say basta and encourage everyone to respect the election’s outcome.

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