- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2006

Now that Mexico’s electoral tribunal has reviewed ballots from contested voting stations and found no widespread fraud in the July 2 elections, losing presidential contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador should concede defeat and call off disruptive demonstrations that have paralyzed Mexico City.

That’s not to say he should totally give up what he does so well — mobilizing masses with acid speeches and blocking traffic. Instead, he could direct his efforts toward causes that would serve a more worthy purpose.

In today’s Mexico, fair elections are not a problem. Reforms in the 1990s turned the Mexican electoral system into a model of transparency. Since 1997, honest votes have been the basis of Mexico’s remarkable political transformation, ending seven decades of single-party rule.

Mr. Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is called, promised to abide by the rules and results during the recent presidential campaign. But on Election Night he broke his pledge, hastily declaring himself the winner before an official tally was completed. Later, he cried fraud when the count showed that he lost by a small percentage.

Campaign advisers such as Manuel Camacho Solis, a top Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) operative when it allegedly rigged 1988 elections, helped flood Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute with specious fraud claims, some refuted by his own Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) poll workers.

When those were disproved, Mr. Lopez Obrador called for a complete recount — not contemplated under Mexican (and most other) electoral laws, which allow for retabulations only in disputed precincts. After that ploy failed, he asked for the vote to be annulled. Mexico’s electoral court refused.

Separately, Mr. Lopez Obrador and supporters spent big money mobilizing crowds in Mexico’s central square to influence public opinion. Demonstrators even blocked main thoroughfares and occupied toll booths. Mexico City businesses lost millions.

The first of September, Mr. Lopez Obrador’s PRD congressional delegation kept outgoing President Vicente Fox from delivering his state of the union speech in the legislative palace. Mr. Lopez Obrador now says he will declare himself president Sept. 16, Mexican Independence Day — setting up a parallel government to disrupt the incoming administration of Felipe Calderon.

Sparser crowds go to Mr. Lopez Obrador’s rallies, while polls suggest Mexicans increasingly view him as a scofflaw and a crank. Were he a serious democrat, he would redirect his persistence and creativity toward real problems, instead of abusing Mexico’s democracy to commandeer an office he didn’t win.

At home, he could mobilize public opinion against some root causes of Mexico’s poverty like corrupt monopolies that block job growth in the energy and telecommunications sectors. He might wage war against the dysfunctional, centralized education system, plagued by strikes and derelict facilities.

On visits abroad, he could take on dictators. Cuba hasn’t celebrated competitive elections in decades. Ordinary Cubans don’t enjoy rights or personal liberties. Their government tells them where to live, what to do and where they cannot go.

A humanitarian Mr. Lopez Obrador could call for demonstrations against such policies at the summit of the nonaligned nations this week in Havana. An activist Mr. Lopez Obrador could even help Cubans set up a shadow government to second-guess every decision the Castro brothers make and propose rational alternatives, thereby hastening their departure.

In Venezuela, a more democratic Mr. Lopez Obrador could decry President Hugo Chavez’s manipulation of voter rolls, publication of government enemy lists, escalating crime, and rampant corruption within Mr. Chavez’s inner circle of ministers and advisors.

But none of that seems to be in the cards. Mr. Lopez Obrador’s most powerful backers come from Mexico’s old-guard elite — industrial monopolists and aging PRI party members yearning for the good old days of single-party rule. Instead of real reform, they want to reinstate the handouts-for-loyalty system that kept the rabble dependent on corrupt leaders.

Sadly, Mr. Lopez Obrador tossed aside his democratic credentials on election night and adopted the same inflammatory rhetoric as Fidel Castro and Mr. Chavez. Fittingly, his next job will be that of a presidential impersonator.

Stephen Johnson is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation.



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