Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Guest Post From Mexico

(A reader from Mexico has kindly written up the story of what is going in Mexico right now and has given me permission to post his article here. It's not quite up-to-date which is completely my fault. I've been procrastinating. But the information is still relevant for full understanding of the situation.)

Interesting Times in Mexico
By Ronald Nigh

"May you live in interesting times!"
Ancient Chinese Curse

The Electoral Conflict
As everyone is now aware, the Electoral Tribunal, Mexico's final court of appeal in its electoral process, has validated the narrow victory of the rightwing official candidate for the Presidency (2006-2012), Felipe Calderón. Officially, Calderón won the July 2 election, over his centrist-progressive opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, by a thin margin of a quarter of a million votes out of more than 41 million total votes. The Tribunal's decision is celebrated as closure of the controversy by Calderón's supporters, including his own party (PAN – Partido de Acción Nacional) the corporate media, the sector of Mexican business most closely allied with multinational corporations, the hierarchy of the Catholic church and an assortment of odd bedfellows such as the remnants of the disintegrating PRI party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional) that formerly ruled Mexico for 75 years.

However, nearly everyone else, including the majority of Mexico's voting citizens are far from convinced by the formal outcome of the judicial process, even it they don't particularly support the other candidate. The controversy has spawned a social movement of protest that still has thousands of people camped in the streets in Mexico City with many more thousands of sympathizers throughout the country.

Since the July 2 elections we have witnessed a series of challenges to the fairness and honesty of the election. From exit polls that gave Lopez Obrador a strong lead, to the election night preliminary results that reversed that lead, to the partial recount ordered by the Tribunal in August, at each step, evidence of systematic fraud has been presented. In each case, the mainstream media has refused to publish these challenges, the government has denied them while presenting no evidence to contradict them and, finally, the Electoral Tribunal, believed to be under direct pressure from current President Vicente Fox, has systematically ignored or dismissed them without justification.

Several independent studies of the electoral process, both within Mexico and from Europe and the US, have detected serious irregularities. To cite just two examples, Weisbrot et al. analyzed the results of the Tribunal's partial recount (only a small part of which, inexplicably, was made available to the public) and found systematic bias in favor of the official candidate among the annulled votes. Mebane of Cornell subjected available vote counts to a mathematical analysis and concludes that "more intensive investigation of the election results is in order."

During the Tribunal's August recount of results from some 11,000 voting stations (out of over 130,000, or less than 10%), a large number of irregularities were revealed. Some results of the recount were turned over to the political parties and Lopez Obrador's supporters pointed to the irregularities in over 4,000 voting stations. In previous election controversies in recent years, the Tribunal has annulled the results of stations showing such irregularities. They did not do so in this case. If the 4,000 voting stations challenged had been annulled, the result of the election would be reversed. In fact, if the results of the partial recount are projected to the 72,000 voting stationsquestioned by Lopez Obrador, then he will have won the July 2 election by 2 million votes, a decisive victory for the progressive candidate.

In general, most of the analyses have concluded that sufficient uncertainty is present in the official result to warrant a further recount of the original vote. Lopez Obrador has demanded a full recount. Yet the government has steadfastly refused to authorize it. Access to the original ballots also has been denied to citizen groups and the government is now rushing to burn the ballots, thus removing the possibility of resolving the uncertainty.

Further violations of Mexican electoral law were denounced before the Tribunal, including illegal interference by the current President in the campaign, in favor of the official candidate, illegal campaign propaganda financed by big business groups, as well as smear and swift-boating tactics in the PAN campaign, violating established regulations. These violations alone, according to Mexican law, are sufficient to annul the election, even without considering the evidence of fraud at the voting station level.

The final decision of the Tribunal was given in two separate moments. First the direct evidence of election fraud at the precinct and district level was dismissed, based on technicalities, rather than a consideration of the merits of the evidence. Also the Tribunal refused to consider the evidence its own recount had produced. The Tribunal's constitutional charge is to seek evidence to clarify and assure the certainty of the election results, yet the judges refused to assume this duty. So on technicalities, all consideration of the evidence for fraud was simply ignored by the judges. Many people have the impression, perpetrated by the press that the Tribunal thus established that there was no evidence of fraud, but this is not at all the case. They simply stuck their heads in the sand.

The second moment was the September 5 validation of the overall process and the awarding of the presidency to Calderón. In doing this, the judges could not ignore the obvious illegal interventionism of the current President and big business during the campaign, in violation of electoral laws. They included a 'reprimand' to President Fox and the business groups but claimed that there was "no evidence" that these violations affected the election result—and of course unsaid: no evidence that they did not affect the result either. The point is, the law was violated, by the Tribunal's own admission, yet the required annulment was not granted.

More than just Lopez Obrador's supporters are disgruntled by this very weak, indeed shameful showing by the Electoral Tribunal. Constitutional experts have been highly critical of the decision and some have called for its annulment, though it is not clear how that could be done. The Supreme Court, part of the same corrupt judicial system, has already refused a citizen request to review the election process. Today (Sep 8) a well connected Mexico City politician and former UN ambassador, publicized a rumor that, previous to the Tribunal's decision, the judges met with President Fox in the house of the head of the Supreme Court, where Fox pressured and threatened the judges to ignore irregularities and declare for Calderon or the consequences for Mexico, he claimed, would be chaotic.

What will happen?
Nobody knows. But it seems that the current course is more likely to result in a chaotic situation than a Lopez Obrador presidency. The Tribunal's decision is not recognized by Lopez Obrador, nor by hundreds of thousands of his followers. Nor has his party PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democrática) aquiesced. The Congressmen of the PRD, in spectacular move on Sept 1, occupied the atrium of the Chamber of Deputies and prevented President Fox from delivering his final State of the Union address. They threaten to use the same tactic on Dec. 1 when Calderón is scheduled to assume office. The 'President elect' travels around Mexico City in a helicopter to avoid meeting protests. He sneaked in the back door of the Electoral Tribunal last week to receive the official document accrediting his victory in the disputed election.

The resistance movement provoked by the discontent with the elections shows no sign of abating after the Tribunal's decision. Lopez Obrador has called a 'National Democratic Convention' (evoking an earlier event called by the Zapatistas) on Independence Day, Sept 16, in Mexico City's main plaza. He states that the purpose of the convention is to 'refound' Mexico's political institutions, including perhaps naming an alternative government and president of Mexico. Lopez Obrador cites Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution that gives the people the right to reestablish a new system of government at any time. So far, more than 200,000 delegates to the convention have been name by local PRD and Lopez Obrador supporters from all over the country. Over a million people are expected to attend the convention. The moment will be tense as it coincides in time and place with the traditional military parade and public ceremony in which the current President is supposed to give the grito, the shout of Mexican Independence, "¡Que viva México!" Lopez Obrador and his followers insist that the do not seek confrontation and that their movement is entirely pacifist.

Some clues about what may ensue might lie in events not directly related to the electoral controversy, The current political context in Mexico is complex and goes far beyond the movement lead by Lopez Obrador. Many parts of the country have hosted, for several years, local autonomy movements in which communities are structuring their own independent forms of local government, ignoring the established political system. Most of these efforts are virtually unknown outside of the local areas. In the state of Guerrero, for example, for more than a decade a locally elected police force known a 'Community Police' has gradually replaced the corrupt and violent official police forces. This system has evolved into the creation of a local court system as well, so that the people of Guerrero have essentially constructed an alternative system of justice. One can only imagine why they may have been motivated to do so.

Movements of political autonomy have emerged in other areas as well. The Zapatistas and their 'Rebel Townships' have received some attention in the press, but other communities of Chiapas, not affiliated with Zapatismo have also began their own autonomous movements. On the other hand, the Zapatistas have begun a national movement called 'The Other Campaign' through which, independently of the electoral forces and regular parties, including that of Lopez Obrador, they hope to build and new opposition political movement in the country

Oaxaca has also been constructing local autonomies for some years. Recently a political crisis has emerged in the state as a teacher's strike sparked a wide resistance movement against Oaxaca's current PRI governor (also believed to have been brought to power by electoral fraud). A wide alliance of community groups has formed a strong front—the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca, APPO in Spanish--and has virtually paralyzed to state to demand the 'disappearance of powers' and the resignation of the governor. In a meeting on Sept 3 the APPO officially 'banned' the current governor and declared a new state government. Although the Oaxaca situation is not directly related to the electoral conflict it may be a kind of rehearsal for the national movement; their moves are being closely watched by all as a possible example for the decisions of the National Democratic Convention may adopt on Sept 16.

It is not coincidental, of course, that Guerrero, Chiapas and Oaxaca concentrate most of Mexico's indigenous population.

The Reaction
With the right wing party firmly ensconced in the formal powers of government, one might well wonder how it will react. If we take Oaxaca again as a possible preview, then we may be in for 'interesting times'.

The initial reaction of the Federal government to the demand for removing the local government can be characterized as intransigent. When the popular movement clearly revealed itself beyond the capacities of the governor's security forces, President Fox sent 300 'Federal Preventative Police' (actually military personnel disguised as police). This force again changed their disguise into street clothes and began random acts of repression against the popular movement, destroying radio stations that had been occupied and even carrying out random shootings of protesters. These methods were not effective however, and the Popular Assembly organized the neighborhoods of Oaxaca City to blockade streets to impede and eventually capture the Federal police.

The Federal government finally entered into negotiations with APPO
and has even accepted putting the issue of resignation on the table as well as other issues. The Minister of Government (a combination of Interior and Homeland Security) agreed to take their petition to the new Congress. The crisis of Oaxaca is far from settled, however.

We can perhaps get a glimpse of the future actions of the right wing PAN party by looking at their initial actions in the new Congress. The PAN now has a simple majority in both houses. It's first move was to ally with the now minority PRI and other small parties to form a block to outnumber the PRD and deny its rightful place as second political force, passing over PRD members for key positions in the legislature that would traditionally be theirs. This is a blatant violation of political custom and a clear indication that Mexico's system is in deep crisis, from top to bottom.
On September 9, when the Minister brought the Oaxaca petition to the Congress, the PAN leader refused to consider removing Oaxaca's governor, probably as part of the new alliance with the PRI. These events, as well as not so veiled threats against Lopez Obrador's followers concerning the intentions of the Convention, suggest that the initial reaction of the new government will be intransigence and repression.

The PRD Congressmen, who walked out of the Sept 8 session in protest of the PRI-PAN exclusion move, have vowed that Felipe Calderon will not be allowed to take possession on Dec 1, just as Fox was prevented from delivering his State of the Union on Sept 1. So, a number of potential flash points exist, apart from rumor's that the government may soon move to remove Lopez Obrador's supporters from their Mexico City camps, perhaps by requesting Congress to grant a suspension of constitutional rights to avoid the 'illegal' use of the army Thus the outgoing president would assume a political cost for what will be a highly unpopular move, that Calderón can ill afford. Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador has proposed to his followers (Sept 10) that they break camp to allow the military parade, to avoid any possible confrontation, and then reconvene in La Plaza de la Constitución for the Indepenence de ceremony and Convention. The next date to watch will be Sept. 16, the National Democratic Convention and Mexico's Independence Day.