Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mexican election result still in doubt

Mexico’s federal political system remains in chaos waiting for the partial recount of the Presidential election. The official result of the July 2 election gave a narrow victory to the conservative Felipe Calderón (pictured left) over his left-wing rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. On 6 July 2006 the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announced the final vote count resulting in the victory for Calderón over the PRD candidate Obrador. Calderón had won by a difference of 243,934 votes (or 0.58%)

However, under Mexican electoral law, only the Federal Electoral Tribunal (TEPJF) can declare who will serve as Mexico's next president. Lopez Obrador alleged electoral fraud and has led a mass civil disobedience campaign to demand a full recount. However independent and international observers said the election was fair. The TEPJF has declared a full recount as impossible by law, and has ordered a recount of about 9% of the total votes. Meanwhile thousands of Obrador’s supporters have been demonstrating for more than a week on the streets of Mexico City. Incumbent President Vicente Fox said Thursday that he is confident the country's disputed presidential election will be resolved peacefully and Mexican democracy will emerge stronger after its greatest test yet. The new president will serve a six-year term replacing Fox who could not constitutionally stand for re-election. Vincente Fox (whose father is of Irish descent) was the first president since Francisco Madero in 1910 to be elected from an opposition party. Fox and Calderon are both from the same party the National Action Party (PAN).

Felipe de Jesús Calderón Hinojosa will be 44 years old on August 18. He has three children under ten years old. He has a law degree and a masters in economics from Mexican universities and a master of Public Administration from Kennedy Business School at Harvard. He ran for governor of the Pacific state of Michoacán de Ocampo in 1995 and was PAN party president between 1996-1999. When Fox became president, Calderón was appointed director of a national development bank and later joined the Cabinet as Energy Secretary. He left the post in 2004 after Fox indicated his preference for a different candidate to replace him. However Calderón won the battle to become the PAN presidential candidate by a comfortable margin. He was forced to deny charges of corruption from his days as bank director. Although this hurt him in the polls, he recovered sufficiently to record a narrow lead on election day.

Soon after it was clear that the "Official Count" would result with Felipe Calderón ahead, Andrés Manuel López Obrador stated that he and his party, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), would fight for a "vote-by-vote" general recount. His party organised mass protests, marches, and civil disobedience which culminated in a massive rally in Mexico City's historic Plaza de la Constitución on 30 July. Estimates of the crowd at the rally range from 500,000 to 3 million. Obrador is 52 years old and comes from the southern state of Tabasco. He graduated from the most important university in Mexico, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, with a major in political and social sciences. In 1994, he ran for the governorship of his oil-rich home state, but lost to the PRI's Roberto Madrazo in a highly controversial election. The election was plagued by allegations of fraud. Then-President Ernesto Zedillo sent a committee led by lawyer Santiago Creel to investigate and investigators found irregularities at 78 percent of polling stations. Obrador recovered from this setback and he was mayor of Mexico City between 2000 and 2005. During this period he built up a major public profile which became the platform for his election campaign.

The election was also important because for the first time, Mexicans living abroad were allowed to vote by mail. However it is estimated that of the more than 11 million Mexicans living abroad, only four million have a voter identification card, a requirement that leaves out millions of potential Mexican voters, who reside in the United States illegally. Dr. Todd Eisenstadt, a visiting fellow at the Center for U.S.-Mexico Studies at the University of California-San Diego has claimed that only about 400,000 US votes will be cast in the 2006 election. If the recount does not change the result, Calderón will be formally proclaimed as president elect before serving for the period 1 December 2006 to 1 December 2012.

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