A reader asks: “Is the IFE dirty?” It’s safe to say that the IFE did not dispel valid doubts about the result and the procedures leading to it. And it was in the interest of the IFE as a public institution, in the light of Mexico’s history and of a tightly contested outcome, to have them dispelled. An institution like the IFE is only worth as much as it is credible.
Yesterday, Reforma had a piece by José Woldenberg. He and others (José Agustín Ortíz Pinqueti comes to mind) laid the foundations of the current IFE. They persuaded congress to allocate large amounts of money to build its infrastructure, manufacture tamper-proof election IDs, etc. And, to say more about Woldenberg’s background and political genealogy, Woldenberg was a leftist, a founder of the PSUM. The PSUM (1981) was the daughter of the Mexican Communist Party (1919), the MAP/Punto Crítico (group to which Woldenberg belonged), and other splinter groups. The PSUM then became the mother of the PMS (1988) and, thus, the grandmother of the López Obrador’s PRD (1989).
In his article, Woldenberg defends the election, the PREP, and the IFE. He dismisses the idea of “worms” or other pieces of software smuggled into the system to manipulate the results, suggesting it is a silly conspiracy theory. Aside from his op ed, he declared yesterday that there should be no recrimination against López Obrador for contesting the outcome of the election before the federal electoral tribunal, because it’s his right — and it’s all within the legal framework. That’s to be appreciated, because Woldenberg has a reputation as a fair-minded person. And he’s saying it because the pundits are all over the airwaves calling López Obrador “irresponsible” and “authoritarian” for challenging the outcome.
For example, in today’s Reforma, Sergio Sarmiento, an intelligent commentator with liberal social ideas mixed with economic conservatism, is saying that López Obrador, by contesting the election before the federal electoral tribunal, is damaging Mexico’s democracy. He rejects the idea that this is in any way similar to the 1988 fraudulent election, when Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas’ triumph was stolen by Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Sarmiento has it exactly upside down: By not opening the ballot packages, the IFE erodes its credibility, which is to say the credibility of the entire political system. And yes, there is an essential commonality between 1988 and 2006: the official winner (the PAN now, like the PRI then) is refusing to open the ballot packages. (Salinas even got the 1988 ballot packages burned, with the support of the PAN.)
Back to Woldenberg — I’m not willing to follow him in his defense of the security of the IFE computer system. Why? One, there are many possible ways in which a computer system can be compromised. And two, the stakes are high and the temptation to get around the locks and manipulate the results is proportional to those stakes. As the Wall Street Journal says, think Florida 2000 — or Ohio 2004. A healthy dose of skepticism, particularly when things look too funny, has nothing to do with being a conspiracy nut.
Woldenberg excludes the mere possibility of a “centrally machinated fraud.” I’m not sure about that either. It depends on what you mean by “centrally.” It’s perfectly possible to go Al Qaeda in committing an electoral fraud. After all, Calderón only needed to wink, insinuate to his followers, mid- and low-level party operatives, etc. that local and individual creativity to advance the goals of the party and stop López Obrador would be duly appreciated. Then you’d have both, a decentralized or retail attempt to commit fraud (therefore hard to pin down) and “plausible deniability” by Calderón and the PAN leaders. Would this kind of fraud suffice? In a tight election, yes.
(Let me add that, like Woldenberg, López Obrador has also excluded the possibility of a fraud in his statements. He is carefully avoiding the word “fraud.” López Obrador’s followers are saying it out loud, “It is fraud,” but not him. However, López Obrador’s ruling out a fraud is not a detached aprioristic, quasi-academic statement like Woldenberg’s, who is understandably defending his legacy as well. López Obrador’s is a call to action. The subtext of his statement is, “A fraud is impossible, because we will make it impossible! We will mobilize and we won’t permit it. Within the confines of the law, we will do whatever it takes to reverse it.”)
Did Calderón, the PAN leadership, and the big donors of his campaign send a message to their troops to cheat? Absolutely. The all-out propaganda campaign launched by the right, a sector of the business class, the government of Vicente Fox, and the leaders of the PAN against López Obrador sent that kind of message. If López Obrador is a “danger to Mexico,” then you get rid of it. You do whatever it takes to stop him — yes, including his assassination.
Am I exaggerating here? Absolutely not! Again, consider history: in 1994, Luis Donaldo Colosio, the presidential candidate of the then ruling party (PRI) was killed in a campaign event. If you only read the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, you may get the sense that the PAN is a modern political party, led by a dynamic group of highly educated yuppies, with a well groomed, wholesome, Harvard educated candidate. Yes, a stratum of wealthy, white European business people and yuppies with good jobs in the the formal sector, banks, brokerage firms, foreign corporations, etc. is one of the PAN’s core constituencies. Moreover, it is clear that in issues that have the biggest impact on the lives and livelihoods of the Mexican people (i.e. economic policy and management of public resources) this is the group in the PAN that sets the agenda.
But the PAN has another core constituency, a crowd that turns out real votes (and, my suspicious mind would add, some fake ones on top) in densely populated areas of central and western Mexico. It is no accident that two of the states where the PAN has absolutely refused to open the ballot packages are Guanajuato and Jalisco. These states have a long and bloody history of Catholic, right-wing extremism — including terrorism, assassinations, and political intimidation. For more on this, google the word “Yunque”. Or google the name of a journalist who has studied them closely (Álvaro Delgado, from the magazine Proceso).
In brief, I cannot rule out that a “centrally machinated fraud” is being attempted in Mexico. I think there is strong evidence pointing to that possibility. And, in a country like Mexico, with its history, the burden of the proof must fall on the PAN, on the party of the rich and powerful, and on the IFE, an institution that has cost much to the public. With a political floor so uneven, the attribution of political responsibilities must be be apportioned in accordance to wealth, power, and opportunities.
But it is true that, in this electoral cycle, the poor have been all but victims. However imperfect, they have used their organization — and their numbers — to improve their condition. Still, they clearly have an uphill battle. But this game is not over yet.