In late August an electoral tribunal in Mexico ruled that the results of the July 1 presidential election would stand, despite the opposition parties’ allegations that the Institutional Revolutionary Party and the campaign of President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto broke the rules to get ahead. (The PRI has denied any involvement.) Millions of Mexicans are understandably upset, since the court’s refusal to investigate has cast further doubts on the impartiality and legitimacy of the nation’s electoral process.
In a unanimous decision, the tribunal’s seven magistrates ruled that there was not enough evidence that voting irregularities affected the election’s outcome _ so nothing will be done. Apparently the PRI’s alleged distribution of thousands of gift cards to voters and the reports that a television network deliberately gave Pena Nieto only positive coverage is evidence enough for Mexican citizens to doubt the legitimacy of this election, but not for the court. Further, the court did not even bother to launch its own investigation. The judges simply decided that it was impossible to determine whether or not the irregularities had affected the election’s outcome and declared Pena Nieto the true winner.
But that ruling is beside the point. Whatever the results of the election, there is overwhelming evidence that at least one party engaged in underhanded practices during the campaign _ that is the core issue. The court’s decision not to act leaves many Mexicans wondering whether the tribunal was biased or if it simply lacked legal rigor.
So what now? While wrongheaded court decisions like this one have been typically met with apathy and acceptance in Mexico, fortunately the tides are turning. The time has come for protest and nonviolent, democratic resistance _ and Mexico might be able to learn something from other nations that have found themselves in similar predicaments.
During my three decades working as a journalist, I have covered numerous elections in Latin America, many of them with confused and debatable outcomes. But in 1990 I was there when Nicaraguan opposition groups united behind Violeta Chamorro to defeat President Daniel Ortega and seize power from the Sandinistas. Following dubious results in previous elections, Nicaraguan voters decided that they had seen enough, and that was reflected at the polls.
In 1994 I was in Colombia when Ernesto Samper’s campaign was accused of spending millions of dollars donated by a drug cartel. His rival, Andres Pastrana, would not accept defeat when Semper won _ he never stopped criticizing Semper. Four years later the Colombian people elected Pastrana president, peacefully registering their resistance at the ballot box, not at the point of a gun.
In Venezuela today a united opposition is working to unseat President Hugo Chavez, who has been in power since 1999, in the Oct. 7 election. By backing a single candidate, Henrique Capriles, Venezuelans hope to finally oust Chavez, whose re-election strategy involves the launching of social welfare programs for the poor (and saying that they will go away if he is not re-elected) and humiliating any opponent who dares to raise his voice against him.
These nations’ refusal to allow politicians who win elections through fraud to stay in office can offer valuable lessons for Mexico _ the most important being that the best revenge happens at the polls. Mexico’s opposition candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, his followers and the young protesters from the group YoSoy132 have a right _ even a duty _ to keep this struggle alive. Their mission is clear: They will not give up, and they will not be pushed around. And they must expose those who engaged in voter fraud so that it cannot happen again.
Democracy is built from the ground up, not from the top down. It advances in small steps. The way forward now for Mexico’s opposition is to transform this struggle for fairness into a presidential victory in 2018.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos
(September 5, 2012)