Over 500,000 workers, students, intellectuals, unemployed and others packed into Mexico Citys giant central square, the Zócalo, on Saturday 8 July. A sea of yellow (the colour of presidential candidate Obradors election campaign) flowed from the square to all the main streets leading to the square. This mass protest was in response to the appeal of the radical populist candidate in Mexicos presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, (popularly known as AMLO, the candidate for the PRD (Partido de la Revolución Democratica) for his supporters to attend the rally.
The protest was called to launch a mass campaign against the blatant electoral fraud carried out to allow Felipe Calderón, the candidate of the right-wing neo-liberal PAN (Partido Ación Nacional), to win the elections.
This struggle over the outcome of the election result follows one of the most polarised and bitter election campaigns in Mexican history. The campaign was marked by a massive class and even geographical polarisation. The working class, peasants, indigenous peoples, and radicalised urban students and intellectuals, backed AMLO, whose votes were concentrated in the south of the country and the mega-metropolis of Mexico City. The rich elite and sections of the middle class, and a majority in the rural north, backed Calderón. The ruling class fear that should Obrador be allowed to assume the presidency it will open the flood gates to struggles by the working class and poor peasants.
This important election also revealed the historic marginalisation of what is now Mexicos third party, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which ruled the country between 1929 and 2000. Its candidate, Roberto Madrazo, was humiliatingly driven into third place, with about 20% of the votes and, for the first time, without a PRI majority in any of Mexicos thirty two states. This is a far cry from previous elections, prior to 2000, when the corrupt, repressive, paternalistic and populist PRI was returned to power with 80% and 90% of the “votes”.
The PRI was increasingly renowned for corruption and vote-fixing a mantle now taken up by the neo-liberal PAN.
Massive electoral fraud
AMLO is reportedly challenging the election results in 45 out of 300 electoral regions. The Spanish daily, El País, on 6 July, quoted Claudía Sheinbaum, a spokesperson for the PRD, who claimed that in 18,000 voting stations there were more ballot papers than registered voters. In 50,000 out of 130,788 voting stations the number of votes reported was higher than the total number of registered electors.
In the PRD legal submission widespread irregularities are documented. In particular, this report noted that in the partial recount which took place, ballots were recounted in a mere 2,600 polling stations out of 130,000. Yet even this slashed Calderóns lead, from 400,000 to 244,000 votes. A staggering two and a half million votes from 11,000 ballot boxes were not included in the preliminary results, released on July 3, because of “irregularities in tally sheets, unclear penmanship and arithmetic errors”.
According to the Mexican journal, El Universal in Mexicali, Baja California, 80% of voting stations had “arithmetical errors” in the total number of votes cast. Other reports include polling stations closing early, at 6 pm; leaving hundreds without the opportunity of voting. El Universal also quotes a PRD spokesperson, Manuel Camacho, claiming that in the state of México there are even cases of the votes from some polling stations being added 85 times to the final result. Other instances include a polling station in Mexico City, where 188 votes were registered for Obrador but only 88 were recorded in the figures published by the national electoral commission.
In the northern states, where the right-wing is strong, more votes were “cast” for the Presidential candidates than Senators and Congressmen. In the southern states, where the PRD is strong, more votes were “cast” for Senators and Congressmen than the Presidential candidate!
This massive election fraud went beyond Mexicos borders. In the US, “undocumented” workers were denied absentee ballot applications at Mexican consulates and embassies, and over one million eligible voters were barred from casting a ballot because their voter registration cards were out of date. They were refused permission to update them outside Mexico.
El País (7 July 2006) commented that during the count, “What caught the attention in the national headquarter of the PAN was the tranquillity which could be sensed in the air of the national leaders who showed no special worry about the early results (which put the PRD in the lead). The situation will change they said”.
And “change” it did. The PRD maintained its lead for 20 hours of the count, until 99.6% of the returns were scrutinised and the PAN mysteriously found itself in the lead!
It was almost like a re-run of the 1988 Presidential election campaign, when the PRD candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, was in the lead until count computers suddenly went blank. When they operated again, the PRI took the lead. Cárdenas, like the former US Democrat presidential candidate, John Kerry, meekly accepted the result, much to the anger of many PRD supporters, at the time.
Largest demo in Mexican history
The attempts by the neo-liberal PAN to prevent a victory for the PRD began even before the election campaign was underway. Last year, Outgoing President, Vincent Fox, attempted to prevent Obrador, the former Mayor of Mexico City, getting onto the ballot paper and tried to get him jailed. This provoked Obrador to organise the largest demonstration in Mexican history, when an estimated one and half million protesters forced Fox to step back.
Yet the right wing forces took a step back only to re-organise and take the necessary steps to rob the PRD of its election majority. The presidential election campaign saw the PRD website hacked into, false statements issued on the PRDs behalf, and other dirty tricks. In the Mexican state of Guerrero, two PRD poll watchers were gunned down by “unknowns”.
Behind this determined attempt to prevent Obrador winning the presidency is a massive polarisation between the rich and the poor. Overwhelmingly, the working class, peasants, urban poor, youth, radical middle class and intellectuals backed Obrador during the election campaign, while the rich and the right-wing supported Calderón.
AMLOs support reflects the chord he touched amongst the masses in Mexico. Denouncing corruption and the rich elite, he promised to halve the presidential salary. In addition, he pledged to increase wages for most workers, by 20%, and to reduce electricity prices, petrol, and cooking fuel by 10%. He proposed a monthly state benefit of US$70, be paid to the elderly, single mothers and the disabled. At the same time, he made the call for a re-negotiation of the FTAA (Free Trade Agreement of the Americas) with the US. This demand provoked the opposition of US imperialism and the Bush regime.
These radical, populist demands have won overwhelming support from the Mexican masses. The election of Obrador would undoubtedly be a set back for US imperialism and the Mexican ruling class. Bush and the US are used to doing business with a compliant, neo-liberal President Fox, and not a more radical, populist nationalist like Obrador.
However, unfortunately, Obrador, while opposing corruption and proposing reforms that would benefit the poor, does not have a programme to break with capitalism. During the election campaign, he stressed that he was not against business or capitalism. “I am against the corruption that has so badly hurt our country, but I have no problem at all with the businessmen of this country”, he told an election rally in Tijuna.
Capitalism with a human face
In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper, Obrador explained: “I have good relations with businessmen. I have problems with influence-traffickers who use the government for their own advantage”.
In other words, he favours capitalism with a more “human face” and which is less corrupt.
A leading figure in Obradors campaign, and a possible choice for Finance Minister, Rogelio Ramírez de la O, told the London Financial Times: “Fiscal discipline is the pre-requisite for lowering the cost of funding the debt and keeping inflation low such a prudent approach meant Mr. López should be seen more like Brazils Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva than the radical Hugo Chávez of Venezuela” (4 April 2006).
This is understood by some capitalist commentators in Mexico. Eduardo Garcia, writing in the financial journal, Sentido Común, commented: “There is some unease in the business community, but its not very rational. Its more based on the fact that it is a stranger coming into power, if he indeed wins, and theyve never dealt with him before. Its fear of the unknown, that he might not follow the rules. He may be against certain businessmen, but not against business per se.”
The acceptance of capitalism by Obrador will eventually lead to a crisis of expectations should he manage to win the presidency.
What sections of the Mexican ruling class also fear is that the election of Obrador will give new confidence to the working class and poor of Mexico and open the flood gates to struggles and demands for change by the working class and poor of Mexico. One example of this was the recent battles of more than 70,000 teachers in the state of Oaxaca over wages. This developed into a popular uprising, demanding the resignation of the State Governor. Other workers, such as miners and metal-workers, also moved into action. Social organisations and local trade unions representing up to ten million workers have called for a general strike on July 28. This is a warning of the impending struggles that are beginning to emerge in Mexico.
Under such conditions, the ruling class fear that Obrador would not be reliable, could be pushed in a more radical direction, and could introduce some radical policies, such as greater state intervention, which they are opposed to.
The crisis reflected in these elections opens a new chapter in the struggle of the Mexican working class and its just over the border from US imperialism. The consequences of these movements will be felt throughout the Americas, including in the US. It comes after mass demonstrations by millions of Hispanic workers, many of them Mexicans, demanding their rights in the US.
For a 24 hour general strike
Reflecting the massive pressure, Obrador was compelled to call mass protests and to challenge the validity of the election results. He demands a recount, one by one, of the “contested votes”. Following the fraud, Obrador denounced Calderón as a “puppet of the most powerful groups”. He also dismissed the outgoing President, Fox, as a “traitor”. Undoubtedly these sentiments reflect the attitude of the millions who supported Obradors campaign.
Inevitably, Bush immediately sent his congratulations to Calderón Bush, after all, won the US Presidential elections, in 2000, by using similar methods in Florida state. Bushs congratulations were echoed by the Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and, to the intense anger of many people in Mexico, the Spanish Socialist Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has shown his true colours to those who may have had illusions in him.
Protesters interviewed by El País (10 July 2006) during the mass protest in the Zócalo showed the widespread anger towards Zapatero. “He is a traitor. He is the same as Aznar [former right wing Spanish prime minister],” said one. An older worker was quoted: “Remember we took in refugees from the Spanish civil war and now they do this to us. Tell Zapatero this is not finished”.
There is clearly a determined mood amongst the workers and youth who voted for the PRD not to accept this result and a desire to fight this fraud. The Mexican journal, La Jornada, reported that homemade placards carried in the Zócalo, last Saturday, denounced the election fraud. Others read, “Estamos listos, Senor, usted ordene!” [“We are ready, Mr, you give the order!”] Protesters chanted, “If there is no solution, there will be revolution”.
Yet, despite calling these protests, which are a necessary first step, more is needed to fully mobilise the working class and others to overturn the fraud which has taken place. Significantly, there were reports of moans and boos during the mass demonstration when Obrador urged his supporters not to block highways or other such acts! The PRD has called for the formation of committees to inform people of the demonstrations and protests and to document election fraud.
Such committees need to be extended and organised from below by the working class and all those wanting to fight the fraud. Elected committees need to be formed in all workplaces, colleges, and workers districts, to mobilise and organise a real struggle to defeat the government. These need to be linked up on a district wide, city-wide, and state and national wide level, to organise this campaign. Such a struggle needs to organised democratically by the working class, the youth, the peasants and the radical middle class and not left in the hands of the existing party leaderships.
The mass demonstrations, called by Obrador, need to be linked to a one-day general strike, as a first step in an all-out campaign to stop attempted massive fraud. Such a campaign needs also to be linked to the building of an independent movement of the working class and the masses, to struggle to stop the fraud but also to replace the current corrupt system of capitalism.
Corruption and vote-rigging, which are endemic in Mexico, are part of the capitalist system. It will only be possible to end them, along with grinding poverty facing the masses of Mexico, by establishing a workers’ and peasants’ government with a revolutionary socialist programme to overthrow capitalism in Mexico and throughout Latin America.