Kidnapping Mexican Democracy

By Enrique Krauze
Thursday, July 27, 2006

MEXICO CITY -- To illustrate the "ad terrorem" method by which truth was imposed in totalitarian societies, Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski told a story: Two girls race each other in a park, the one who is behind repeatedly proclaiming at the top of her lungs, "I'm winning! I'm winning!," until the one in the lead gives up and runs crying to her mother, saying: "I can't beat her, she always wins."

Minus the ending, something similar is happening in Mexico. After a model Election Day (free, orderly, peaceful) during which 41,791,322 Mexicans voted, their votes tabulated in 130,477 polling places by 909,575 citizens, the PRD (Democratic Revolutionary Party) candidate for president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, lost by a margin of 0.57 percentage point to Felipe Calderón, candidate of the National Action Party (PAN).

A preliminary electronic tally sponsored by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of México matched the final count taken in the 300 electoral districts where the official results from the polling places were collected. That negative outcome in the presidential vote aside, on the very same Election Day, the PRD became the second most powerful force in the legislature, considerably increasing its presence in both chambers, while its candidate for head of government for the Mexico City district won with 47 percent of the vote and the PRD swept nearly all the executive and legislative positions in the city.

This was the reality testified to by 1,800 district advisers, 970,000 representatives from all the parties, 24,769 national observers and 639 international observers. Nevertheless, López Obrador is unwilling to accept his personal defeat (although, of course, he considers the elections that produced unprecedented victories for his party to be valid).

Given the narrow margin of the presidential election, the PRD chose to exercise its legitimate right to challenge the results before the Federal Election Tribunal. The court's final and unappealable ruling will decide no later than Sept. 6 whether the irregularities claimed by the PRD are valid, in which polling places they occurred, whether a recount should take place and, ultimately, the result of the presidential election.

If the PRD candidate had simply implemented this legal strategy, his behavior would not have unforgivably sullied the process or undermined Mexico's fragile democracy. But as might have been predicted, López Obrador wasn't satisfied with legal action. Just as he's always done, he had to go for broke -- resorting to "ad terrorem" methods.

Aware from the night of July 2 that the outlook wasn't good, López Obrador behaved like the girl in the story above. He went to the Zócalo (that theological-political spot in the historical center of Mexico City) to declare: "We've won the presidency." Days later, after release of the official tally by the Federal Electoral Institute (the independent citizen body that since 1996 has been successfully organizing fair elections at every federal level, reversing a long history of fraud), López Obrador summoned the "people" to an "assembly" at which he called President Vicente Fox a "traitor to democracy" and used the most ominous word in the Mexican political dictionary: "fraud."

This denigration of the respected Mexican electoral system (which had just announced the triumph of hundreds of PRD candidates), and the incendiary speeches that have followed seriously threaten the peace in Mexico.

Besides proclaiming his own victory, insulting the president, personally threatening Calderón and his family, calling the officials of the Federal Electoral Institute "criminals," and anticipating the verdict of the judiciary's Federal Electoral Tribunal, López Obrador has employed tactics worthy of an Orwell novel. Arithmetical irregularities that are isolated, that are only presumed and not confirmed by the tribunal, are presented to the public as clear proof that the whole process was tainted. And if, as occurred on July 11, his own polling-place representatives deny a purported irregularity, López Obrador argues that they were "bought" or corrupted.

Most troubling of all is that López Obrador has called for demonstrations all over the country "in support of democracy" -- the same democracy whose institutions he has impugned. Even though he insists that the marches will be "peaceful" and "won't get out of hand," he knows very well that in the atmosphere he has created, violent actions might be initiated by either side. It isn't hard to gauge his intentions. He's made them very plain, and since he's a man of his word, he must be believed: "I'll go as far as the people want me to go."

Apparently, however, "the people" are not the 27,034,972 Mexicans of all classes who didn't vote for him; they're not even the 14,756,350 citizens who supported him at the polls. "The people," or "the nation," will be those sectors of the population that López Obrador is able to get out into the country's streets and plazas in coming days and weeks -- those who see him as he sees himself, as the Mexican messiah. And who will interpret the wishes of this "people," a repository of natural and divine law rather than of the petty laws written by men? The charismatic leader who incarnates Truth, Reason, History and Virtue, the leader who will save Mexico from oppression, inequality, injustice and poverty, who will "purify national life": Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

This is a film the world has seen many times. The seed of dictatorship has been planted. Impermeable to objective truth, a messiah who has proclaimed himself "indestructible" and publicly (and seriously) compared himself to Jesus, seeks to kidnap Mexican democracy. If the ransom he demands (strict obedience by the Federal Electoral Tribunal to his will) is not paid, he is prepared to set the country aflame.

But in a democracy (and Mexico today is a democracy, although its long history does much to contradict that) it isn't blazing torches, insurrectional assemblies or enlightened leaders who decide: It's the vote of the people, the rule of law and institutions.

Enrique Krauze is the author of "Mexico: Biography of Power" and editor of Letras Libres magazine. This article was translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company