Elections, Mexico


The current president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is still fighting the results of the 2006 elections, which sent Felipe Calderón of the PAN party into the presidency.

“He knows perfectly well he did not win,” López Obrador said of Calderón during one of his recent morning news conferences. “That it was a fraud, that he was forced into place.”

The referee in those elections was the Federal Electoral Institute, which made Calderón the winner by a difference of barely .58 percentage points – 243,000 votes. But AMLO never accepted those results.

Shortly after that election, in July of 2006, I interviewed AMLO, who had been the candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution, to try to understand why he had alleged fraud. “We can speak of two aspects,” López Obrador told me. The first was “everything that resulted from the lack of equality before the election: the unequal handling of radio and TV spaces, the use of money, the illegal use of institutions … the meddling of the president (at the time Vicente Fox), the dirty war.” The second part “of the fraud was in the falsification of certificates of vote totals,” he continued. “There is a known number of certificates that are false, that have higher totals than ballots … One and a half million” votes.

AMLO has not forgotten 2006, and maybe that explains his frequent attacks on electoral authorities. For 16 years he has insisted on his idea of a fraud. But Fox, who was president from 2000 to 2006, does not agree.

“He talks and lies a lot,” Fox told me during an interview last week in Miami, referring to López Obrador’s complaints of fraud. “That’s why there is an electoral authority – a referee, the Federal Electoral Institute, which determined the victory by President Calderon.” Fox added that he regrets having allowed AMLO to run in the 2006 presidential elections, even though at the time he faced controversial charges of breaking the law amid a lawsuit over urban development. “I had him in my grip,” he told me. “And I had the bad idea of allowing him to exercise his civil rights and not be banned (from holding public office). That’s why I said that I regret doing that.”

Fox noted that the same institute that certified the 2006 elections, now with a different name, validated López Obrador’s victory in 2018, with more than 30 million votes. And that it’s not right or reasonable to accept one result in 2018 and reject another in 2006. López Obrador “is a guy who plays dirty, who plays crooked, and who does whatever pleases him at any point,” Fox concluded. The Federal Electoral Institute, founded in 1990, changed its name to National Electoral Institute in 2014 and now supervises all elections across the country.

It’s impossible to persuade Fox and Calderón that AMLO won in 2006.

It’s impossible to persuade AMLO that he lost in 2006.

That’s why it’s so important that a referee – independent, impartial, respected, respectful, professional, just, competent, credible – organizes elections in Mexico and count the votes. And that’s why I am telling you about this old fight over the 2006 elections. It makes no difference who you believe. We cannot allow political parties and their members to organize and decide who wins an election. That would be the end of Mexico’s young and vulnerable democracy.

What’s important is to strengthen the electoral referee, not weaken it. Mexican democracy depends on a good referee, powerful and just. The United States, by the way, could spare itself a lot of Donald Trumps and electoral allegations if it had something like The National Electoral Institute. But since each state sets its own electoral procedures – and social networks are plagued by disinformation and conspiracy theories – the U.S. problems are growing.

I grew up in a Mexico that was authoritarian, repressive and with censorship, where presidents were hand-picked by the outgoing president. We cannot go back to that time. It cost us Mexicans a lot of work to forge a true representative democracy. Clearly, it can be improved. But that’s not going to happen if we militarize the country or allow the party in power to decide who and how to organize elections. That’s how it was done for 71 years by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as PRI, and the result was fatal, catastrophic.

We Mexicans of a certain age grew up in a country of fake news. After every election until 2000, every PRI presidential candidate was declared the winner. It was all a lie. The government organized the elections, counted the ballots and declared the winner. And its candidate always – always – won. Strange, no? That’s what we have to avoid now.

I write this amid an intense debate in Mexico about a new electoral reform. There’s a lot at stake. The fear, of course, is that AMLO and his Morena party want to modify the electoral system to guarantee they will remain in power. And that would be a big step backward.

To protect democracy in Mexico, two things must be very clear: The Mexican military must return to its barracks. There are no military democracies. And two, the organization in charge of organizing the elections and counting the votes must stand as far as possible from the president and the party in power.

Never again can a Mexican president, including AMLO, control the electoral system and the organization that counts the ballots. It’s all about protecting the referee.

Even if it angers the president. It’s for Mexico and its future.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

Image by: Markus Winkler on Unsplash

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”