- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

The Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) announced on Thursday that National Action Party leader Felipe Calderon had won the presidential election by 243,000 votes. Mr. Calderon’s margin of victory over his populist opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, amounted to only one-half of one percent of the 41 million votes cast — slim, to be sure, but certainly not slim enough to warrant the ballot-by-ballot recount for which Mr. Lopez Obrador has called, unless it’s proved that serious discrepancies have been overlooked.

It’s not unreasonable for Mr. Lopez Obrador to question legitimate irregularities where they occur, but the independent IFE provides the proper forum for such questions to be raised. The way that Mr. Lopez Obrador conducts himself today at the rally he has called in Mexico City will be a bellwether of how he will use his supporters while the electoral court reviews his expected challenge over the next several weeks — and also a bellwether of his respect for Mexican democracy. So far, the indicators are not good. Mr. Lopez Obrador has frantically alleged fraud and conspiracy, as he has done multiple times in his political career. His calls for a rally today have been those of a man eager to fight.

Mr. Lopez Obrador should realize the severity of the blow he would deal his country if he attempts to channel his popular support against the IFE and the federal court. Vicente Fox’s victory six years ago, which ended seven decades of single-party rule, was a substantial boon for democracy in Mexico, and that progress will be thoroughly undone should Mr. Lopez Obrador refuse to abide by the decision of the highly regarded IFE. Even if his attempts are unsuccessful, they may not, unfortunately, rule out a future presidential bid. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (and very nearly Col. Ollanta Humala in Peru) came to power through the electoral process after an unsuccessful attempt to gain power outside of that process.

Mr. Calderon’s victory, if upheld, marks an electoral triumph over the model of the authoritarian leftist. The traction Mr. Calderon was able to gain during the election by likening Mr. Lopez Obrador to Mr. Chavez compounds this point.

There is a lesson in this Chavez analogy for Mr. Calderon. Mr. Chavez is as much a consequence as he is a cause, and his rise to power is due in no small part to the widespread belief that institutions have failed to fix problems, including crime and poverty, that beset the Venezuelan people. This is true also of Mr. Lopez Obrador’s widespread support, and the electoral map shows that breakdown quite clearly. That the poorer areas in Southern Mexico went almost uniformly for Mr. Lopez Obrador should send a clear message to Mr. Calderon that, to prevent a political resurgence from authoritarian populists like Mr. Lopez Obrador, he must deal with the issue of poverty. And he needs to do that by creating job growth at home, not by encouraging remittances from illegal aliens in the United States.

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