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The Simulated Republic

(Photo by Annie Tritt)

“We will go forward, friends, with firmness and decisiveness. We will triumph. We will save Mexico . . . with whatever it takes, until whenever it takes,” Andrés Manuel López Obrador told the crowd at the Zócalo on Saturday. The following night, the partial recount in the disputed Mexican presidential election apparently ended as most people expected it would, with only minor changes in the polling tallies that gave the win to conservative candidate Felipe Calderón by less than 1 percent of the vote.

The federal electoral tribunal, which on August 5 ordered a recount in only about 9 percent of the polling places, has not released results, but analysts and news outlets have said there is little chance the outcome will change. The tribunal must ratify the election results and name Mexico’s new president by September 6. But it may not happen.

Mexico is now in a state of all-out political instability, and not just in the capital, where López Obrador supporters have taken over the Zócalo as well as Paseo de la Reforma, a major avenue. The dispute had been notably peaceful until Monday, when federal police battered activists and legislators who attempted to set up an encampment near the Congress’ lower House of Deputies.

To the south, in Oaxaca, a protracted and bloody labor dispute between the teachers union and the state government is worsening. To the north, there’s been little progress made in the spate of kidnappings and murders of women in Ciudad Juárez. And in cities across the country, harrowing drug trade–related executions remain gory staples of the daily news digest.

In recent days, López Obrador’s supporters have temporarily taken over border crossings and highway toll booths, blocked access to banks and some government buildings, and staged performances in favor of the recount bid.

But Juan Pardinas, a researcher at CIDAC, a prominent Mexican think tank, says that despite giving the electoral tribunal 900 pages of fraud allegations, López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party (or PRD) has presented only isolated and circumstantial evidence that fraud occurred in the July 2 election.

“For many people, what López Obrador is doing legitimizes the campaign that suggested he was a danger for Mexico,” Pardinas says. “I don’t think so, but I do think he’s a danger for the left, if the left wants to paint itself as a movement that is serene, positive and liberal. That’s where the left is losing the battle.”

But what else can López Obrador do? He and his supporters firmly believe that Mexico’s aloof and interconnected political elite stole the election, just as the 1988 election was allegedly stolen from leftist candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.

Although Mexico’s electoral law is now one of the most comprehensive in the world, there is little any written law can do to counter the law of the street and the countryside. In the months running up to the election, two separate nonpartisan studies showed widespread “bad old days” political activity — vote buying, voter intimidation — happening in remote areas of Mexico.

Then there were the peculiar voting patterns on election night. Screens at the Federal Electoral Institute’s “macro-newsroom” showed Calderón curiously ahead of all other candidates in nearly all of Mexico’s 31 states. His lead remained strong throughout the night, an anomaly — several Mexican mathematicians told AlterNet — that is statistically impossible. Statistical impossibilities were also recorded on the tally recount held days later. Initially, López Obrador carried the lead, but at the last moment, as if by magic, Calderón pulled an upset. That final result, delivered before dawn on July 6, has remained: Calderón won by about 244,000 votes.

The PRD is not buying it, and López Obrador has cast his movement as a struggle to reform Mexico’s political institutions once and for all. “The simulated republic is finished,” he said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, would-be President-elect Calderón, a Bush administration favorite, lies low in an attempt to strengthen the perception of his victory while at the same time refraining from antagonizing the leftist coalition. Calderón canceled a previously scheduled “thank you” tour of the country.

And the city lives on. With tents and banners replacing cars and microbuses on Paseo de la Reforma, a strange natural phenomenon has heightened the sense of surreal urbanism. Hail rained down upon the Valley of Mexico in record amounts, blanketing some sections of the city with a snowy-white gravel.

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