An Anti-Democracy Campaign

Saturday, July 29, 2006

ANDRES MANUEL López Obrador's attempt to win Mexico's presidential election with populist promises and posturing was a failure: He repelled Mexicans who don't want their country to drop out of the 21st century, blew a large lead in the polls and ended up losing by a narrow margin to Felipe Calderón. Now Mr. López Obrador has launched a second populist campaign -- this time in an attempt to overturn Mexico's fragile democracy. On Sunday he will preside over the third mass rally he has staged in Mexico City since his 200,000-vote loss was announced by the electoral commission this month; aides say he will urge his followers to undertake acts of disruption. His clear aim is to force the country to install him as president -- whether or not the votes or the legal means exist to do so. "I am the president of Mexico," he declared on television last week.

It is difficult to overstate the irresponsibility of Mr. López Obrador's actions. Until the late 1980s, Mexico was an authoritarian state in which presidential elections were routinely rigged. Then the country's political elite, including Mr. López Obrador's party, came together to agree on a momentous political reform. An independent federal elections institute and federal electoral tribunal were created; over the past decade they have had an impressive record of impartiality and professionalism, even as candidates from once-persecuted opposition parties, including Mr. López Obrador, have won victory after victory. Mexico is still working on some of the institutional foundations of a democratic society, but the electoral authorities were a success story and a model for other nations trying to move from fake to real elections.

Mr. López Obrador is doing his best to destroy that achievement. He has made wild charges of manipulation and fraud against the federal elections institute, without offering any tangible proof; international and independent Mexican observers detected no such abuse. He has demanded that the tribunal, which has until September to rule on challenges to the election, order a full recount of the votes, even though the law does not provide for one. A filing made by his campaign to the tribunal revealingly quoted Joseph Stalin: "It is those who count the votes who decide everything."

In fact, Mr. López Obrador is betting that the threat of chaos in Mexico will sway the seven members of the tribunal to overrule or annul the votes of 42 million citizens, regardless of legal niceties or the actual vote count. His advocates point out that a similar campaign stopped an attempt by his opponents in Congress and the current government to exclude him from the presidential race last year. That maneuver -- which we strongly opposed -- failed when President Vicente Fox wisely and responsibly backed down. Now Mr. López Obrador is making his own attempt to bend a brittle system to his purposes. He, too, should stop.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company