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Recounting Our Way to Democracy

by ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRAD Saturday, Aug. 12, 2006 at 1:40 AM

NOT since 1910, when another controversial election sparked a revolution, has Mexico been so fraught with political tension.

By ANDRÉS MANUEL LÓPEZ OBRADOR

Published: August 11, 2006

Mexico City

NOT since 1910, when another controversial election sparked a revolution, has Mexico been so fraught with political tension.

The largest demonstrations in our history are daily proof that millions of Mexicans want a full accounting of last month’s presidential election. My opponent, Felipe Calderón, currently holds a razor-thin lead of 243,000 votes out of 41 million cast, but Mexicans are still waiting for a president to be declared.

Unfortunately, the electoral tribunal responsible for ratifying the election results thwarted the wishes of many Mexicans and refused to approve a nationwide recount. Instead, their narrow ruling last Saturday allows for ballot boxes in only about 9 percent of polling places to be opened and reviewed.

This is simply insufficient for a national election where the margin was less than one percentage point — and where the tribunal itself acknowledged evidence of arithmetic mistakes and fraud, noting that there were errors at nearly 12,000 polling stations in 26 states.

It’s worth reviewing the history of this election. For months, voters were subjected to a campaign of fear. President Vicente Fox, who backed Mr. Calderón, told Mexicans to change the rider, but not the horse — a clear rebuke to the social policies to help the poor and disenfranchised that were at the heart of my campaign. Business groups spent millions of dollars in television and radio advertising that warned of an economic crisis were I to win.

It’s my contention that government programs were directed toward key states in the hope of garnering votes for Mr. Calderón. The United Nations Development Program went so far as to warn that such actions could improperly influence voters. Where support for my coalition was strong, applicants for government assistance were reportedly required to surrender their voter registration cards, thereby leaving them disenfranchised.

And then came the election. Final pre-election polls showed my coalition in the lead or tied with Mr. Calderón’s National Action Party. I believe that on election day there was direct manipulation of votes and tally sheets. Irregularities were apparent in tens of thousands of tally sheets. Without a crystal-clear recount, Mexico will have a president who lacks the moral authority to govern.

Public opinion backs this diagnosis. Polls show that at least a third of Mexican voters believe the election was fraudulent and nearly half support a full recount.

And yet the electoral tribunal has ordered an inexplicably restrictive recount. This defies comprehension, for if tally sheet alterations were widespread, the outcome could change with a handful of votes per station.

Our tribunals — unlike those in the United States — have been traditionally subordinated to political power. Mexico has a history of corrupt elections where the will of the people has been subverted by the wealthy and powerful. Grievances have now accumulated in the national consciousness, and this time we are not walking away from the problem. The citizens gathered with me in peaceful protest in the Zócalo, the capital’s grand central plaza, speak loudly and clearly: Enough is enough.

In the spirit of Gandhi and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we seek to make our voices heard. We lack millions for advertising to make our case. We can only communicate our demand to count all the votes by peaceful protest.

After all, our aim is to strengthen, not damage, Mexico’s institutions, to force them to adopt greater transparency. Mexico’s credibility in the world will only increase if we clarify the results of this election.

We need the goodwill and support of those in the international community with a personal, philosophical or commercial interest in Mexico to encourage it to do the right thing and allow a full recount that will show, once and for all, that democracy is alive and well in this republic.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the mayor of Mexico City from 2001 to 2005, was a candidate for president in 2006, representing a coalition led by his Party of the Democratic Revolution. This article was translated from the Spanish by Rogelio Ramírez de la O.

NYTimes.com

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