Mexican general election, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A little more than a week after Mexicans went to the polls, conflict and controversy swirl around the July 1 elections. Almost everywhere-in the halls of Congress, on the Sunday talk shows, in bars and cafes and on the streets-the results are the hot topic of conversation. And claiming fraud, a growing citizen’s movement is crossing borders and transforming the elections into an international issue.
The so-called Mexican Spring has now transitioned into the Hot Summer of 2012.
“We’re protesting how the new president of Mexico has been imposed upon us,” said a woman who would identify herself only as Michele at a weekend protest in the international resort city of Puerto Vallarta. “They are buying votes and not respecting the votes of the people.”
The young protester held a placard written in English that appealed for international solidarity.
On Sunday, July 8, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), released a final vote count in the presidential election that gave Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party/Green Party Alliance (PRI-PVEM) the big prize with 38.21 percent of the votes, followed by the Progressive Movement’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with nearly 31.60 percent of the ballots.
Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) scored 25.41 percent of the votes, while the National Alliance Party’s Gabriel Quadri trailed a distant fourth with 2.29 percent, according to the IFE. The federal electoral authority stressed that more than 50 percent of the votes had been recounted.
Of the 46,878,451 votes that were officially cast, more than 1,260,000 were tossed out because the ballots were marked for unregistered candidates or declared void due to error or intentional mutilating by voters protesting the political system.
The IFE reassured the nation: “To give an idea of the speed, transparency and efficiency of the counts, it’s precise to point out the magnitude of the work in which thousands of citizens participate including election councilors, members of the Professional Electoral Service, representatives of political parties, electoral observers and the media.”
But in a preliminary report, the respected elections observation organization Civic Alliance charged that vote-buying, intimidation and infringements on the right to secret voting undermined the July 1 elections.
“Political campaign money is determinant in the election results,” the group declared. Civic Alliance deployed 500 observers in 21 states but did not witness the voting in 10 other entities, including regions where so-called narco-violence and violence against candidates and political parties was a constant during the election campaign, because of fear for the safety of observers.
Another independent group, contamos.org.mx, maintains a website with numerous reports of vote-buying, ballot stealing, irregularities in the operation of voting booths and other serious problems.
Based on accusations of vote-buying, the alleged payment to the PRI of foreign money via a Banamex (Citibank) account and other illegalities, Lopez Obrador is expected to make an important statement July 12 detailing how he will seek to have the presidential contest declared null and void in the election court system.
“IFE did not do its job of cleaning up the results,” Lopez Obrador said of the partial recount at a July 9 press conference. “We can’t accept the results. We have proof that we can’t go along with these results.”
The two-time presidential candidate charged that the PRI bought five million votes for Pena Nieto.
The center-right PAN is also demanding that the appropriate authorities thoroughly investigate campaign expenditures and law-breaking but is stopping short of forming a common front with Lopez Obrador to overturn the presidential election.
An important segment of Mexican society is taking the matter to the streets.
Unlike 2006 when Lopez Obrador’s partisans spearheaded post-election protests against alleged fraud, the 2012 movement is attracting a broader segment of the population. Expanding beyond the university students who launched the anti-Pena Nieto 132 Movement last May, the citizen protest now encompasses professionals, workers, housewives and older people as well as youth.
On Saturday, July 7, the movement flexed its muscles with mass protests in dozens of cities not only in Mexico, but in Canada, the United States and Europe as well.
Tens of thousands marched in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Monterrey, Puebla, Aguascalientes, Ciudad Juarez, Acapulco and elsewhere. In Cancun, young people led a march past large hotels in “frank violation” of a local ordinance that prohibits public demonstrations in the tourist zone, according to a story in the daily El Universal newspaper.
It should be noted that the Mexican Constitution, the product of the 1910 Revolution, guarantees citizens the right to freely express their views.
In Mexico’s second most popular foreign tourist destination, Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, a fired-up crowd of hundreds marched through the streets and rallied at the downtown plaza. There speakers with megaphones led chants against Pena Nieto,
the IFE and the Televisa television network accused of manipulating the election in favor of the PRI’s candidate.
A cardboard coffin placed on the nearby Malecon proclaimed “R.I.P Mexican Democracy.”
Written in both Spanish and English, colorful signs railed against the political system and denounced fraud. Posters included quotes from Emiliano Zapata, Mark Twain, Malcolm X and the assassinated 1994 PRI presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio speaking from the grave. A university instructor and architect, Gabriel Perez called the subdued day of July 2, when no large celebrations in favor of Pena were visible anywhere, “a day of national mourning.”
Puerto Vallarta resident Maria Chuy Villasenor said the IFE should respect its own rules and throw out the election.
“We aren’t in agreement,” Villasenor told FNS. “The IFE is corrupt. The IFE has an obligation to be straight forward. It works for the people, not the government. They receive big salaries just to let us down.”
Villasenor added that a proposal by La Jornada Jalisco columnist Salvador Cosio to require a second round of voting between the two top vote-getters in situations in which no candidate wins a 50 percent-plus majority, would probably be a good idea to put into practice.
Ironically, the PRI reportedly might contest the Puerto Vallarta municipal election, which was also held on July 1. In a big upset win, Ramon “El Mochilas” Guerrero was declared the Pacific resort city’s new mayor when voters officially tossed out the PRI after three successive municipal administrations.
Once identified with the conservative PAN, Guerrero jumped ship to become the mayoral candidate of the Citizen Movement party, an organization which was part of leftist leader Lopez Obrador’s electoral coalition.
Feeding the passion of anti-Pena Nieto protesters is the widespread perception, with mounting evidence, that the presidential election was bought and sold.
Reports of vote-buying and other irregularities continue trickling into FNS, including accounts of how potential voters in the state of Jalisco cards were shown cards that contained check-offs for social programs dedicated to single mothers, students and other sectors of the population. Interested persons were told they could select a program and cash in once the PRI’s Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval was elected governor. The young, former Guadalajara mayor was indeed declared the victor of the July 1 state election.
Isabel Colmenares, a young mother and worker in Puerto Vallarta, was the victim of a crime that could have political implications.
In an interview, Colmenares described how she was waiting for a bus with her three-year-old daughter in a heavily-transited zone of Puerto Vallarta last June 22, when she reached for the fare only to have the wallet snatched from her hands by a young man who took off running; the theft occurred in broad daylight.
In addition to losing all the money she had saved, Colmenares realized that her voter identification card was among the items stolen along with the wallet. With the elections approaching, she then attempted to get proof of voter eligibility from the IFE but was told that officials were too busy with other tasks to help at the late date. Subsequently, Colmenares did not vote.
“It made me angry. I was never interested in politics like I was in the last few months,” she said of her experience. “I had hoped to give my vote to the person I wanted to win.”
But Colmenares soon discovered that she was not the only person who suffered the sudden loss of a voter credential. In the 15 days prior to the election, Colmenares said three women friends, one in Mexico City and two others in Puerto Vallarta, also experienced the theft of wallets containing voter identification cards.
The thwarted voter added that the type of robbery she endured in the busy heart of Puerto Vallarta is not common, and that she had not heard of any similar heists since the election.
In recent weeks, reports of people paying cash for voter identification cards that could be used to fix elections were rife across Mexico.
On another front, stories continue to circulate about people unable to vote and/or observing irregularities at the special precincts set up for tourists and other out-of-towners.
For instance, a regular reader of FNS, Graciela de la Rosa, wrote that she spent nearly seven hours in line before being able to cast her vote at a special precinct in Mexico City. Characterizing the scene inside the precinct as one of “total disorder and confusion,” de la Rosa said she observed people cutting in line while police from the nearby state of Mexico, the home base of Pena Nieto, were on hand. “What were (Mexico state police) doing in the Federal District?” she wrote.
A story which is getting a lot of play is a caper called Sorianagate, in reference to the huge Mexican department store chain. The modernization and digitalization of vote-buying, an electoral crime in Mexico, is the essence of Sorianagate.
Lopez Obrador’s camp accuses the PRI of distributing more than one million Soriana gift cards to people residing in Mexico state in return for votes for Pena Nieto.
As proof, the candidate’s staff presented thousands of the gift cards to the media and publicized recorded testimony backing the story, which gained currency after Soriana stores in Mexico state were jammed with thousands of people attempting to spend the cards. FNS also heard a credible account of a similar spending stampede at a Soriana outlet in Guadalajara.
According to press versions, rumors had floated around that the PRI might cancel the cards after the elections. The air of a double fraud emerged when gift card holders complained that cards delivered as part of a highly dubious electioneering tactic actually contained far less value than they had been promised.
The PRI denies the veracity of the Sorianagate claims, contending that a sore loser, Lopez Obrador, is puffing up the whole affair.
Jorge Carlos Nunez, vice-coordinator of the Pena Nieto campaign, was quoted in the Reforma news service calling Lopez Obrador’s post-election posturing “political terrorism of the left” designed to get the candidate something by force that he couldn’t achieve at the ballot box.
Soriana has also disassociated itself from political uses of the gift cards, though the growing scandal has already reverberated in the Mexican stock market, where company stock plummeted by almost five points last week, according to Reforma. Meanwhile, Soriana has withdrawn from circulation in its stores the current issue of the Proceso newsweekly that has a picture of Pena Nieto with the title “Bought Election” on the front cover.
Lopez Obrador and company will likely include Sorianagate as one element of an expected election challenge with the Federal Electoral Tribunal.
Under current election law, the Progressive Movement will have a tough time in overturning the July 1 presidential election. Many people consider Pena Nieto’s victory and eventual inauguration a done deal, and media pressure is growing for Lopez Obrador to bow to the winds of history.
Columnist Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez wrote that the left should count its blessings and construct a responsible political opposition to help push for “the second generation of democratic reforms in the country.”
A quick glance at the reshuffled political map after the July 1 municipal, state and federal elections shows no party with an absolute majority in Congress, the PRI with a score of governorships and the left with not only its bastion of Mexico City but now the states of Morelos and Tabasco as well. The big loser was President Calderon’s PAN party, which suffered a political debacle of historic proportions.
Sparked by the 132 Movement protests, the new citizen movement is the wild card in the emerging political scene. Whether the mass movement can maintain its momentum and translate spontaneous street protests organized by the social networks into a coherent, lasting force is the transcendental question at the moment. Proposals floating around the movement range the gamut from a boycotts of Soriana and Televisa advertisers to public intervention in the federal contracting process for two new television channels. Signs held aloof at the July 7 Puerto Vallarta demonstration simply read: “Surrender Prohibited.”
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico