Monday, July 03, 2006

Mexico presidential election - Oaxaca governor playing with fire?

First, an update about the election results. Felipe Calderon of the PAN is holding on to his slim 1 percentage point lead that he has had all day. Actually, his lead has swelled to a whopping 1.05% as of this posting. That's why I believe he will ultimately be the winner. He was confident enough to demand that the IFE release the final uncertified vote count when it was finished today and declare him the preliminary winner. The IFE has refused to do this. AMLO is supposed to making a statement regarding his and the PRD's "position" towards the vote count right about now. The IFE has said it will release the numbers but make no statement.

Regardless of any statement that the IFE might make, the election will not be official until the votes are certified. That will be no earlier than Wednesday and perhaps much later. The IFE has until August to certify the vote. It gets a little complicated about how this all works down here.

The IFE (Instituto Federal Electoral) conducts the election. It also monitors the campaign, responding to complaints filed by various candidates and parties around the country, chastising evil-doers and handing out penalties. That's a big job. Imagine a mirror group in the USA. It would have to be bigger than our military -- and better armed -- just for Chicago, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles and Seattle. But I digress.

After the voting, a group under the IFE, called Programa de Resultados Electorales Preliminares (PREP), is responsible for the preliminary count. This count is what some commenters to my earlier posts kept referring to as "unofficial". Also, this count is sometimes called in the Mexican press the "conteo rápido" which erstwhile commenters have translated too literally to mean "quick count". That's a bad translation. As any of you who are bilingual know, you have to be very careful about translating literally, word for word. "Conteo Rápido" means "preliminary count".

After PREP finishes the counts they are relayed to the IFE headquarters in Mexico City where they are made available to the public. There is also a huge video screen in the press room at the IFE which transmits the results as they come in. Now, all of the ballots are hauled to Mexico City. The ballots from a select group of casillas (polls) are counted using optical scanners. If a clear winner can be determined from these polls, a preliminary winner can be declared by the IFE. It still would not be the certified winner. In any case, that won't happen here. The race is too close to call based on a sample of the vote. In 2000 the margin between Fox and Labastida was wide enough that the IFE could say that Fox had won and Labastida conceded. That won't happen this year.

Now what will probably have to happen is that all the votes must be counted again in front of various special interest groups paid for by the parties involved, ala Florida 2000. This will be a long and arduous process. The IFE can refuse to do this if it feels that there is not enough evidence to convince it that full manual count will change the results. Whether or not there is a recount the final results as determined by the IFE are then passed to the Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación ((TEPJF)). This is the final arbitor of the election. This group of magistrates will either certify the election and declare the winner, or they can reject the results and order the recount. In any event, it is highly doubtful that their authority and final decision can be appealed through the courts, ala Gore 2000. I think, but am not absolutely sure (as is no one else I have talked to here), that the TEPJF has the ultimate say. I might also note that all accusations of irregularities during and after the voting are now presented to the TEPJF, not the IFE. These would include complaints that the IFE did not properly adjudicate pre-election and campaign irregularities.

I have a little more detail on what happened with the Policia Preventiva last night. These latest details do not corroborate earlier reports which I repeated in this post about police hostages and ballot boxes being held by the striking teachers' union. What the teachers are claiming and the press is now reporting is that some members of the police force reported to a university radio station here that they had spent 3 days prior to the election marking ballots for the PRI (Madrazo). Apparently the Oaxaca governor, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, had boasted that he would deliver 1 million votes to the PRI cadidate, Roberto Madrazo.

Then, early yesterday evening, another policeman reported that police vehicles with their insignia covered by white paper were about to leave the headquarters for the Pacific coast. The trucks were purportedly filled with the pre-marked ballots. A group of teachers, who now control the streets of Oacxaca city whenever they wish to, rushed to the police headquarters but were insufficient in number to stop the vehicles from leaving. Their numbers were soon augmented and they were able to blockade the the headquarters of the Policia Preventiva and stop any other vehicles from leaving.

If this story is true and the teachers' charges are accurate, it would have had no effect on the election outcome between Calderon and AMLO. It sounds more like it was an exercize in self inflation by Governor Ruiz. It may be, however, that the police intended to ambush the vehicles transporting the counted ballots from the coast and do a switcheroo. That would have had a neglible effect, at best, but then this election is so close that a normally negligle effect could be like a tidal wave. I would put nothing past these PRI fanatics.

This story I was told by a direct participant in the election. I have a part-time maid who also works in a government office building. She said that she and other government workers were given these instructions and told to obey them or they would lose their jobs. She was ordered to arrive at one of the special casillas in the city's center early yesterday morning and to bring along all the friends and relatives that she could. They were to all vote for the PRI and they then could return home. This was an attempt by the government to try to offset the votes of all of the from-out-of-town teachers. It didn't work too well, either.

OK, here is what Andres Manuel López Obrador and the PAN had to say. It really doesn't sound that bad. He is afraid that the IFE will certfy its conteo rápido and pass those results to the TEPJF which will certify and declare a winner -- not AMLO. He is demanding a manual recount of all the votes. With an election this close, I don't blame him. Unfortunately, he is also making broad and unsubstantiated claims of fraud, ala Kerry 2004. That will just serve to fire up the faithful which usually results in bloodshed on the streets here in Mexico, as opposed to bloodshed in the courtrooms, ala David Boies 2000 in the USA. He also is hilariously demanding to know what happened to the 3 million voters who didn't make it to the polls. I guess that "At home in bed with a good book or somebody," doesn't count with AMLO.

AMLO has a tendency to grossly exaggerate. He further claims, ala John Kerry 2004, that exit polling, conducted by his party of course, indicated that he had a 25% lead when the counting started and at no time was that lead less than 10%. So, his apparent 1% loss is indicative of fraud. Regarding the exit polling, all reports that I have read and was following last night show that the exit polling indicated a race too close to call from the very git go. In fact, one major media outlet, TV Azteca, has a corporate policy not to release its exit polling at all if it falls inside the margin of error. TV Azteca made that claim all day yesterday and did not release the data.

It looks like Calderon has won this election but the certified outcome will not be outcoming for some time.

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