By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
MEXICO CITY — Felipe Calderón was holding his latest I-am-the-president-no-matter-what-anyone-says press conference. Standing before a backdrop that brazenly proclaimed “Felipe Calderón, President of Mexico, 2006–2012,” he told the media gathered at the headquarters of his conservative National Action Party (known as PAN) that he planned to tour the nation to thank the people of Mexico for electing him. He said he had received congratulatory calls from various foreign heads of government — George W. Bush, the prime minister of Spain, the prime minister of Canada, leaders of Guatemala and Honduras, even Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
“National Action has always sided with legality and institutionality,” Calderón said Tuesday. “We won the election in the polls; that’s why I ask my followers to maintain calm.” Then, taking a swipe at his opponent, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the social-democrat-style Democratic Revolution Party (known as PRD), he added: “Elections are won with votes, not with mobilizations.”
The whole thing felt like it was taken right out of the Republican Party media playbook. You know, the chapter that instructs politicians to repeat something enough times until it becomes true, facts be damned.
Calderón is not the winner of the never-ending Mexican presidential election of July 2, the most contested in Mexican history. He’s not even the president-elect. Not yet, at least. This country’s electoral tribunal has until September 6 to name a successor to outgoing PAN President Vicente Fox, the tribunal’s first real test of its mission to defend the integrity of Mexico’s still-maturing electoral process.
Until then, no successor, no president-elect. Calderón should never rise to that office, and he never will — if you believe the media onslaught of López Obrador, who says he’s the real new president of Mexico.
In the meantime, the populist kept playing populist, calling an “information assembly” at Mexico City’s vast Zócalo square on Saturday that was really just another postelection campaign rally. There, before making any decisions on what to do next, López Obrador asked the masses before him, “Do you agree?” “Si!” came each roaring reply. Marches are planned from 300 electoral districts across Mexico for another huge rally — uh, information assembly — at the Zócalo this Sunday.
The purpose of it all? Show the country and the world, with massive mobilizations, that popular support is behind López Obrador, who is convinced, as are millions of his supporters, that this election was rigged by a small cadre of political elites who want to keep power from the man who represents Mexico’s oppressed masses.
After all, these elites have tried to keep him down before. And don’t forget, López Obrador said Saturday, Fox became a “traitor to democracy” when he injected himself into the race and subtly drummed up support for Calderón, ignoring a fiercely held tradition in Mexican politics of sitting presidents not participating in campaigns.
Wait a minute. Wasn’t this election supposed to have been Mexico’s shining moment of democracy? Before July 2, Mexico was convinced it would be so. Today, there’s no end in sight to a new round of legal battles and López Obrador’s officially peaceful grass-roots movement to have the election recounted, “voto por voto.”
The López Obrador campaign this week filed hundreds of claims with Mexico’s electoral tribunal, detailing the campaign’s charges of widespread fraud. López Obrador himself presented to reporters a video that he said showed a man stuffing a congressional ballot box in Guanajuato, presumably in favor of Calderón’s PAN. The hope is that enough evidence is presented so that the tribunal, known by its Spanish acronym TEPJF, will annul or seek a recount of votes in certain electoral districts. If enough results change, Calderón’s microscopic final-tally advantage of 0.58 percentage point over López Obrador — just 244,000 votes out of 41 million cast — could be overcome. On election night, López Obrador told his supporters that, according to PRD data, he had won by 500,000 votes.
When asked on Tuesday about the possibility of a change in the outcome, Calderón avoided the question. And when asked if it might seem disrespectful to Mexico’s fragile democratic institutions to keep puffing about as if he were already the winner, he ignored the question and asked for another, eliciting hisses from Mexico’s pesky, partisan press corps.
Calderón repeated his desire to invite López Obrador into his future cabinet. But, a reporter astutely asked, didn’t Calderón brand López Obrador a “danger to Mexico” during the race? Why be friendly to “dangerous elements”? Calderón would not answer. (Calderón later told the Washington Post that he would accept a partial recount in some areas.)
This has been the PAN campaign’s precarious political strategy in a precarious situation. What else could they do? Everyone knows Andrés Manuel López Obrador isn’t going anywhere. The man is on a mission.
Meeting with foreign media last week, López Obrador declined to answer whether he would give up his efforts to claim the presidency if TEPJF, and even Mexico’s Supreme Court, ruled against him. He was pressed on the subject several times. With López Obrador, you get the sense that TEPJF, the Supreme Court, the PAN, Fox and anyone else who stands in his way are all part of the same lot.