Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lessons from Mexico's Election

I read with interest a couple of pieces that appeared in the LA Times this weekend concerning the as-yet-unsettled election results in Mexico. First, Robert A. Pastor, an authority on elections and democracy, notes that Mexico has not only made huge strides in creating highly credible election institutions and procedures, it has surpassed the US in that regard. Mexico's Federal Election Institute (IFE), Pastor explains, is a non-partisan fully autonomous commission that runs Mexico's elections nationwide, and is widely respected and trusted (in a country which generally has a high degree of mistrust and cynicism in its own government). He notes the stark contrast between the corrupt elections he observed in Mexico 20 years ago, and the reliable process he observed last week, and then goes on to explain in detail the lessons that the US might now learn from Mexico, such as credible processes to insure that voter registration lists are accurate, that only registered voters vote, and only once. (One item Pastor left off of his list: though Mexico's election was very close and there will be recounts, there will be no "dangling chad" issues. Their election technology is not only standardized nationwide, but it is more modern and reliable than most of our own state-by-state and county-by-county hodge-podge.)

He concedes that the very close election will certainly test Mexico, but notes that "close elections are always dangerous" because a just-short-of-majority of people may be "resentful and angry." (He draws the obvious comparison to the US election in 2000.) We ultimately survived the election of 2000 because we have a long-established commitment to our democratic procedures. As a practical matter we generally all (excepting a few die-hard leftists) acknowledged Bush as our President, and nobody has seriously advocated overthrow of the government. But it was our tradition carried us through, not the credibility of our specific processes and election administration, which were shown to be sorely lacking. In Mexico, trust in democratic procedures is still nascent at best, and if their democracy survives this election, it will be on the strength of their electoral institutions (as well as the actions of the winner in working to heal the divide). I think Pastor is also right that the US could stand to learn from its neighbor as far as election administration goes. Look further than both these elections, there may well be lessons to be drawn from the US and Mexico in terms of the importance of institution and process versus trust and tradition that should be applied wherever we're attempting to "transplant" democracy onto foreign soil (as in Iraq).

Meanwhile, Gregory Rodriguez offers an intriguing assessment of Lopez Obrador (AMLO) as a potential threat to Mexico's democracy. AMLO seems intent on not accepting any result other than his own victory in the election. Rodriguez writes of AMLO:
Indignant over his loss, he has accused Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute of "manipulating" votes. In so doing, he is not only impugning the credibility of one of the nation's most trusted organizations, he is encouraging the type of cynicism about politics that helped semi-authoritarian regimes maintain power in Mexico for most of the 20th century.
Lopez Obrador has summoned his followers to rally in the Zocalo (the large central square in the capital) to protest the apparent election results which declared his opponent Calderón the winner. Whereas the protestors in the immediate wake of the 2000 US election were demanding to "count every vote", AMLO is all but saying he won’t accept a loss even if the recounts go against him. Rodriguez offers an insightful diagnosis here:
Because populism traditionally thrives in profoundly unequal societies where the dispossessed don't trust the system to solve their problems; where they turn, instead, to charismatic figures they hope will take on the state, defeat it and funnel its largesse away from the elite and toward the poor. They put their faith in leaders rather than in democratic processes. It's a recipe for authoritarianism.
I have not been familiar enough with Mexican politics to have a strong opinion about the election, but I have to admit the Lopez Obrador’s behavior this week has certainly got me hoping that Calderón is ultimately declared the winner (and that AMLO hasn’t abused his influence too greatly in undermining Mexico’s fledgling faith in democracy).

1 comment:

krizantah said...

At our booth about 490 citizens voted. When we were counting the ballots there was a president (me), a secretary, a counter (escrutador) a person representing the PRI, another person from the PAN and 2 from the PRD. So we were 7 people counting de decision of 490. The counting cannot be done by a machine. For instance, I once thought that someone had given his vote to the PAN but in fact he had marked 2 political parties so it was an annuled vote. Another example, a citizen marked a very small cross under the PRD logo, it was supposed to be over the logo, the 7 of us decided that it was an honest mistake and it was really a vote for the PRD. I wonder, how could a recount be more effective and sincere than this procedure? How can you pay and army of millions of people to recaunt the ballots? When Mr López was the major of Mexico City, he was considering the possibility of building a 2nd floor over the express way. He told us that he needed the residents´ opinion and that he was going to do whatever the people decided. We have had earthquakes here and we are going to have more, so I voted against the consruction of the 2nd floor, I lost a whole Sunday doing it. Monday morning Mr López anounced that the majoroty of people have voted against the 2nd floor but because not a lot of people voted it didn´t count, so he went ahead a built that monstruosoty! ......If Mr López doesn´t trust how the citizens count the ballots I myself don´t trust his "democracy."