Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Can We Start Shooting Yet?

The Mexican election is finally over. Mexico's Federal Elections Tribunal today officially rejected AMLO's complaints and declared Obrador the winner. This exhausts legal avenues for AMLO and his supporters as the Tribunal's decision cannot be appealed.

So what were AMLO's complaints, exactly? Well, though he demanded a vote-by-vote recount, his party only sued 44,000 poling stations for fraud. The court therefore only considered irregularities in these stations, and ended up recounting about 10% of the votes, reducing Calderon's already-insignificant lead by about 80,000 votes. No official charges of systematic fraud were ever filed, though AMLO frequently insists in his speeches that the entire system is corrupt. Further claims include that a television ad comparing him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez illegally influenced the outcome of the election. Now - I'm a bit out of my depth here since I don't know the specifics of Mexican law on campaign ads. Apparently this one was privately financed by businessmen outside of Calderon's party and so might have been illegal. In any case, the court found that it did not make a significant difference. Probably the looniest charge was that a certain TV drama subliminally influenced viewers to vote for Calderon. How that kind of charge is meant to stand up in court I do not know.

In any event, Obrador's case seems to be largely imaginary. The Tribunal dutifully checked for fraud in all of the districts Obrador's party pointed to, resulting in actual recounts in many cases. If Obrador had wanted a full recount, he should have sued in all districts. But of course he couldn't because investigations in some districts would have beefed up Calderon's lead, or else exposed fraud by his own party, or both. As for the TV ads, if he doesn't want television ads comparing him to Chavez, maybe he should stop acting like Chavez. Maybe, rather than organizing mobs and threatening revolution, what he should do is strengthen the country's nascent democracy by allowing its democratic institutions to function, and respecting the official count and procedures whether or not they go his way. That, after all, is what democracy and the rule of law mean. In any case, if the ads were indeed illegal (which I really don't know), then an appropriate time to have brought this charge would have been during the election itself when they were still running. Laws and such only matter to Obrador when they can help him. It's anyway difficult to see how a series of privately-financed television ads can be a greater threat to Mexico's democracy than mass demonstrations in the Zocalo at which Obrador promises to form a Shadow Government if he doesn't get his way. If that isn't an illegal threat, then television ads can hardly have been that damaging.

Obrador's political history would indicate that this could go on indefinitely. In 1994, after losing a gubernatorial election, he staged similar protests that lasted for over a year. However, I have a feeling the gas will start to run out of this soon. For one thing, AMLO has started hedging his bets a bit. Back on August 29th, his pledge to form a Shadow Government was a "vow." Now he says he needs the permission of a popular convention, which will be held September 16th (Independence Day) in the Zocalo. The cynical interpretation would be that he needs this convention for a show of legitimacy. But I tend to think he's leaving himself an out. Playing asshat about the presidency is a bit different than doing it about the governership of an impoverished southern state. For another thing, he's starting to get on people's nerves. Again, it's one thing to pull these stunts in the backwater, another thing to shut down the capitol. When you do it on national TV, you make more enemies in living rooms than you do friends on the ground. Further, getting a rival government off the ground will require the commitment of the PRD delegates to Congress. They're good for things like blocking President Fox's state of the nation address; it's not clear they'll be as willing to risk their careers on a nutty revolution. But finally and probably most importantly, Calderon is now officially president-elect, meaning that Fox's hands are no longer tied. He can now claim that he is simply defending the national governmental institutions, i.e. doing his job as executive, when he decides to break up these protests.

The showdown is set for September 16th, when a traditional military parade in the Zocalo with either go ahead as scheduled or back down in the face of Obrador's mob. Obrador's mob is not trivial. These people have been camping there in tents for two months now - and there may be as many as 3 million of them (ten times Calderon's margin in the election -- think about it). It would be an ugly and difficult fight with police, to say the least. But it's one that I don't see how the government can avoid. Obrador can't be ignored - it's that simple. About 20% of the nation is solidly behind these actions, and roughly 40% of the electorate voted for him, after all. It's coming one way or the other. Letting him hold his seditious convention in defiance of the traditional military parade is letting him go too far.

I say it's time to start shooting. There's a time and a place for protest. This one in the Zocalo has never been legal - but so far I believe President Fox has been right to leave it alone. People are frustrated, let them vent. There's a point at which it crosses into the danger zone, however. If Obrador keeps up his talk of a rival government after the legitimate one has been officially elected, then we've clearly crossed that line.

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