And it won’t until it certifies ballot counting
MEXICO CITY – The ballots have been cast and counted. But Felipe Calderón won’t be Mexico’s president-elect until the nation’s highest electoral court says so.
The independent agency that ran the July 2 election added up more than 41 million votes and declared that Calderón won the most: 240,000 more than rival Andres Manuel López Obrador.
But this agency has no legal authority to declare a winner.
Under Mexico’s complex election laws, Calderón won’t have won until the Federal Electoral Tribunal certifies the count. And that’s not a sure thing: The widely respected tribunal has overturned two gubernatorial races in recent years, both for meddling by the ruling party.
Disgruntled candidates have gone to court to dispute election results in many countries, the U.S. presidential race won by George W. Bush in 2000 is a famous example.
But Mexico, where electoral disputes are almost a tradition, makes the courts part of the process right from the start. It’s part of an elaborate system designed to eliminate the fraud that was once nearly universal. Once the votes are officially counted, each party has four days to file challenges with the Electoral Tribunal.
The tribunal’s seven magistrates then consider the evidence in weeks of hearings, deciding whether individual ballot boxes were stuffed, whether particular voters were intimidated, whether candidates violated spending limits or bought votes.
Mexico’s election law says the court must decide all of that by Aug. 31. The magistrates then add up the votes that have survived challenges and declare a winner by Sept. 6, a decision that can’t be appealed. The new president is inaugurated Dec. 1.
Even in the last presidential election, when Vicente Fox had a commanding lead and his opponents quickly conceded defeat, the tribunal needed more than a month to declare him president-elect.
This year’s race is a squeaker, and López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, has alleged that Calderón’s National Action Party benefited from irregularities at about 50,000 polling places, setting the stage for a complex, emotional battle before the court.
Lopez Obrador headed to court Sunday evening to file purported evidence of fraud that he hoped would overturn his conservative rival’s razor-thin preliminary victory.
Lopez Obrador said his lawyers would give the Federal Electoral Court evidence of fraud, including computerized manipulation of the results, a day after he held a mammoth rally in Mexico City’s historic center and called on his supporters to help keep his hope alive.
The legal appeal would seek not to annul the July 2 election, but to force authorities to conduct a manual recount of all 41 million ballots.
“This was a very irregular election, and we are asking that they count vote by vote to legitimize the president-elect,” Gerardo Fernandez, a spokesman for Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party, said outside the tribunal Sunday night as he waited for lawyers to arrive to present the legal challenge.
“We won’t recognize Calderón’s triumph unless they legitimize the election,” he said.
At least one key López Obrador aide says he’s ready to trust the tribunal, known by its Spanish initials as the TRIFE.
“It is the final arbiter, and it would be a tragedy if it wasn’t impartial,” said Manuel Camacho, a top campaign aide to López Obrador. “The PRD has confidence in the TRIFE.”
The court’s magistrates, nominated by Mexico’s Supreme Court and confirmed by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, have been working together for 10 years. This will be their last and probably biggest decision before they leave the court in October.
“The magistrates are serious people. They come from academic and legal backgrounds,” said historian Lorenzo Meyer, who endorsed López Obrador before the election. “I can’t imagine them distorting their decision because of pressure from a party.”
The judges, most of them little known outside legal circles, emerged from a justice system long tied to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which dominated Mexico from 1929 until 2000. But the PRI has suffered from some of their most notable rulings – as has National Action:
The tribunal threw out the PRI’s victory in a tight Tabasco state governor’s race in 2000 because of official interference and ordered a new election, which eventually was won by the PRI.