Demands for a Recount in Mexico: What's Next? In Mexico, the two leading candidates in Sunday's election declared themselves president-elect, and a final decision could involve months of recounts and challenges in court.
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Demands for a Recount in Mexico: What's Next?

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Demands for a Recount in Mexico: What's Next?

Demands for a Recount in Mexico: What's Next?

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Three days after Mexico's presidential election, there is no clear winner. Preliminary counts of Sunday's poll gave conservative Felipe Calderon a lead of about 400,000 votes, about 1 percent.

His opponent, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, cried foul. He claimed that millions of ballots were missing.

Yesterday, the head of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute said 2.6 million votes are not missing, but they were left out of the preliminary count because of what he called inconsistencies. Poor handwriting, unusual marks on tally sheets. If a review of those uncounted votes holds, the head of the commission said, Calderon's lead would shrink to about six-tenths of 1 percent, about 257,000 votes.

If you have questions about ballots, counts, recounts, and court challenges or about what this election tells us about Mexican politics, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail,

And joining us first is Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR's Mexico Correspondent, with us from NPR's bureau in Mexico City.

Good to speak with you.



CONAN: This sounds like an awfully familiar story to Americans. A vote too close to call, demands for a recount. Any idea now when a winner will be declared?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, I'm going to take you through just briefly what's happening today and then what will be happening in the next few days.

Right now, sealed ballot boxes are being checked at 300 district-level election headquarters all around the country. The boxes - I went to one such center today - they're being guarded by members of the army. They're being taken up one by one into a room where election workers, observers, and members of the parties are.

Now, they then compare the tallies compiled by the poll workers on election day to what the Election Institute has announced and also what the parties have as their tallies.

Now, by law, individual ballots can only be recounted when the packages appear to have been tampered with or their tallies are inconsistent in some way. Now, that is very crucial because Mexico's main leftist party who is behind, some say, in the vote, says that they won't concede the presidential election unless there is a ballot by ballot recount of every single vote cast.

Now, that is not sort of taking into account the law, which says only if there is any kind of inconsistency can you open up a particular ballot box and then count the ballots one by one.

Now, once that whole process has taken place and that should, and that - it's really not clear how long that's going to take. It could end today. It could end tomorrow. It could end on Saturday. It just depends on how many disputes there are.

And having been there, I can tell you that the parties are fighting it out vote by vote. Every box seems to be - is being contested by the leftist party, and then, of course, the right party of Felipe Calderon is saying we don't want that box open. So it's a very laborious process.

But the IFE, and that's the Federal Election Institute, must announce a president-elect by Sunday.

CONAN: By Sunday.


CONAN: And are there different rules - again, one of the things we learned in 2000, all of the different rules in all of the different states of this country. Is it similar in Mexico, or at least the rules at least the same in all the Mexican states?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: No. In fact, that's one of the great differences between Mexico and the United States. Here, it is federal. There is one law for the entire country. There is one organization that you can appeal to, which is the IFE, the Federal Election Institute. And then what happens after this is if the political parties, which they've already said they have, have complaints, they will go to the Federal Election Tribunal. And that's a kind of Supreme Court type of organization, but it only arbitrates on electoral disputes. And that tribunal would not render its verdict until September 6.

So we're looking at perhaps an entire summer, possibly, of, you know, no president being announced.

CONAN: Yet the Mexican system seems to at least allow for the possibility of this. The current president, Vicente Fox, doesn't leave office for quite some time yet.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's exactly right. The new president is going to take office on December 1, so, you know, the safeguards that they've put in place are exactly that. They say, okay. You know, the law stipulates every step of the way what has to happen if there are disputes and then who's going to arbitrate those disputes. And it gives a lot of time for that to happen so that there's no kind of rush to get an announcement out.

But of course, you know, the climate in Mexico at the moment is very, very difficult, and I think if you had an entire summer of uncertainty, it would be very, very problematic.

CONAN: I suspect there may be a conspiracy theory or two that's running around.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness. I think you get it in every place, and certainly you get it here in Mexico. Let's just not forget, this is a country with 71 years of one party rule where elections were regularly rigged, and so people are, you know, very skeptical of the electoral process.

In 1994, IFE was created exactly to alleviate those (unintelligible), to make the system more transparent, and this is its biggest test.

So what we're seeing now is the leftist party and its candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, are saying that they will not accept - they've already said this. The tally hasn't finished yet, but they will not accept the tallies today unless there is a vote by vote recount of all the votes. So what's being set up here is a real confrontation and, I think, a real political crisis. I mean, I think we're definitely - if not there, heading towards that.

You know, they say that there were very grave inconsistencies in at least 50,000 polling places. They say that votes cast outnumber ballots distributed by the officials. And they say that there was flat out fraud.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we can get a listener in on this conversation. We'll turn to Daniel. Daniel calling us from Castro Valley, is that right, in California?

DANIEL (Caller): That's correct. How are you doing, Neal?

CONAN: Okay. Very well, thanks.

DANIEL: I'm hearing reports that there's discrepancies in the PRD states where there's a lot less votes for president than there are for congress and senators. And then in the PAN states, there's a lot more votes for president than there are for congressmen and senators, with the biggest glaring example being Tabasco where both the PRI candidate and the PRD candidate are native sons, and you'd expect they'd have a power base there, but there's a lot less votes for president there than there is for the congress people.

CONAN: Let me just explain. PRD is the Democratic Revolution Party. That's the party of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. PAN is the party - the conservative party of Felipe Calderon.

Lourdes, go ahead.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I know. There's too many acronyms in this election, for sure. It's hard to do stories about it.

So, that's right. That's certainly what the leftist party is alleging. They say that in places like Tabasco - I think it was 8 to 1 in favor of Lopez Obrador -they say that that should be much, much higher. It's a state with a firm PRD or leftist party base. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is from there.

I can tell you right now, there's just been a flash from Reuters and they say that now Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is leading the recount of with 36.6 percent of polling stations reporting. And that's from the Election Institute. So, you know, this is going down to the wire. I mean, you know, there's (unintelligible) going on every single second saying this guy's leading. The other one's leading. One's crying fraud. The other one's saying, listen, this Election Institute has been put in place. No one, you know, people trust it. It's not partisan in any single way, and we have to trust what's already been put out there. So it's a real fight.

CONAN: Daniel, thanks for the call.

DANIEL: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's bring another voice into the conversation. John Womack, Jr., the Robert Woods Bliss professor of Latin American history and economics at Harvard, an expert on modern Mexican history. He's with us from a studio on the Harvard campus.

Nice of you to be with us today.

Professor JOHN WOMACK, Jr. (Professor of Latin American History, Harvard University): Thank you for inviting me.

CONAN: And Professor Womack, as Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reminded us, 71 years of one party rule - well, I guess this is what you get for having contested elections.

Prof. WOMACK: Well, I would contest that it was 71 years of one party rule. In fact, Mexican politics has never really been a function of normal elections. If you go back into the 1920s before the grandfather of the regime that we - that has just sort of collapsed over the last few years appeared, they had extremely contested elections and the votes were all rigged. The problem was that they actually - pieces of the army would then begin to fight each other over the elections.

Before that, you had 10 years of violence summed up as the Mexican Revolution. Before that, you had 30 odd years of a regime that - where the candidates were all handpicked out of the - through serious internal negotiations.

So, Mexican politics has never happened until very recently out in the open. These divisions we now see, and they're very intense, are to some extent only aggravated forms of the divisions that used to happen inside and behind the scenes. They took as much intense, painful negotiation behind the scenes as they now obviously take out in the open. So, this is some ways, what's new about it is that it is out in the open, but the contested quality of it goes back to Mexico's entire life as a republic.

CONAN: Got another caller in on this conversation, Travis. Travis calling from Louisville, Kentucky.

TRAVIS (Caller): Yes, in recent years we've seen socialist governments take place in Spain, Bolivia, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile, and I'd like to ask with Obrador at least doing this well, I mean, he's very close, if there's some sort of socialist wave going on that perhaps in some indirect way Bush is firing up the socialists to get out and vote, and the second comment, actually...

CONAN: Why don't we try one at a time. All right?


CONAN, host: John Womack, why don't you try that one?

Prof. WOMACK: I don't think that's true. I think Bush has fired up a lot of people in Latin America, as elsewhere in the world, but I don't think that's what's leading to those votes. It's mostly the failure of the wave of a bunch of neo-liberal policies over the last 10, 15 years in Latin America that has led to reactions from the left. Each of those countries is very different. Venezuela's nothing like Chile, Brazil and Mexico, they're all very, very different. I don't think that - to call them all socialists is I think also confusing.

CONAN: Let me ask Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. Was George Bush a factor in this election? Was he mentioned in the campaigns?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not at all. I think the professor is exactly right. Every single country is different. All politics are local. We can't really forget that and, you know, every country has its own situation. I think what we're seeing here is certainly is - after the lid was taken off after, you know, the PRI basically collapsed in 2000 with the election of President Vincente Fox. You know, these divisions have now come to the surface and they've been given a voice by the parties. And I think, you know, when you see in Latin America, you know, there are problems with stagnant growth. There are problems with poverty. There are problems, you know, with people being disenfranchised. You know, that then when candidates tap into that, you know, that gives them a lot of power at the ballot box.

CONAN: Travis, thanks for the call.

TRAVIS: (Unintelligible).

CONAN: And we're talking with John Womack, who's a professor at Harvard University, a Mexico specialist there, and with Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, our Mexican correspondent for National Public Radio. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an e-mail question from Gwen(ph) in St. Paul, Minnesota. What are the worst-case scenarios if a winner is not accepted by both sides? What are the odds that there might be armed rebellion or a coup by either side? And, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, I think the leftist candidate, Mr. Lopez Obrador, said that the stability of the country is an issue here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what they said today was that, you know, that they weren't going to accept the results unless there was a ballot by ballot recount and that they said they were going to take this to an international tribunal as a last resort if indeed their demands were not taken seriously. I think there is a fear, certainly, of armed, you know, not armed but certainly protestors coming out into the street, you know, a lot of instability and that is certainly a fear. I don't think that there is necessarily, you know, danger of a coup that the army would get involved in. I mean, we don't really have a long - you know, I don't think that's very likely at all.

CONAN: Professor Womack, what do you think? Is stability an issue?

Prof. WOMACK: It is. I think not so much immediately. I think everybody involved - and there's numerous very powerful politicians on all three sides -I think they will probably manage to keep this under control for as long as it takes to get some sort of resolution. I think in the long run, though, that is to say over the next three or four years, that there really - what's remarkable about this is the intensity of the division in public. The left and the right in this case really seem to be absolutely determined.

I think the politicians behind the scenes are much more realistic, but the more public the demand is on either side, the more difficult it is to negotiate. And the left is itself more of a coalition of political forces than the right. The right isn't entirely unified but they, I think, are now the solidest block or single political force in the country and they're not going to go away, even if they lose the presidential election. They are very solidly organized, and more broadly so, across the country now than they've been.

The left is - if it wins or loses the presidential election - is going to have its own internal difficulties. So the country is in for, I think, several years of serious, angry conflict at a pretty local level, and this is something I think that is unprecedented in the country's history for decades, many decades.

CONAN: Hmm. And let me ask you, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, regarding what the professor just said. There were congressional elections in Mexico as well, and it's clear whoever emerges as president is going to have to work with the other side.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I mean, I have to totally agree with that. It's a very, very divided country. People are very angry, and now what's being set up is that somehow people are going to feel that the elections didn't represent them, that they were cheated out of their votes, is what I think is being set up at this particular point in time and I think that will resonate for many years to come here.

You're right, the congress is very divided and whoever comes in will not have a mandate and I think that that is something that whoever becomes president will have to deal with. Let's just not forget that, you know, the current president, Vicente Fox, also dealt with a divided congress and that was one of the reasons, people said, that he was not able to make many of the reforms that he had wanted to make. And I think whoever becomes the next president will not only have to deal with a divided congress but a divided people and the legacy of this contested election.

CONAN: All right. Stay with us, both, if you will. We have a couple of more questions we want to get to after the break, as we continue to talk about the deadlock in Mexico's presidential election. We're also going to be talking about American politics. Political Junkie Ken Rudin will be joining us, so if you have questions about the Senatorial race in Connecticut, the standoff in New Jersey or about continuing battles over immigration, the 2006 midterm elections: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Right now we're wrapping up our conversation of the deadlock in Mexico's presidential election. Our guests are Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, a Mexico Correspondent for NPR News, and John Womack, Jr., Robert Woods Bliss professor of Latin American history and economics at Harvard University. And let's get another caller in. This is Michael. Michael calling from Los Angeles.

MICHAEL (Caller): Yes. I am interested in the question whether or not if Calderon were to be confirmed, although I just heard from you that Reuters is now saying Lopez Obrador is ahead, if I heard that correctly.

CONAN: It depends on where they're counting, but that's what they say.


MICHAEL: Was that supposed to be a national figure or local figure?

CONAN: We don't know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's 36 percent of polling stations now. I mean, I just wanted to say this to show this is a very close and contested vote. Not to by any way, shape or form endorse Lopez Obrador's win. It's very early days in the process.

MICHAEL: Okay. Since - let's say Calderon were confirmed. Since PRI at least nominally is on the left and so is the PRD, and Lopez Obrador originally was with the PRD, I mean the PRI, is there a likelihood that the PRI and the PRD would cooperate on a at least de facto level and make it impossible for Calderon to govern? And as a footnote to that, you hear all about the presidential vote and I have only once - on Channel 52 from Mexico City - heard a breakdown of the congressional vote, which at that time was 29 PAN, 27 PRD, and 21 PRI. Is there a possibility of that kind of cooperation between PRI and PRD and where do the three parties stand now on their congressional...

CONAN: Tally.

MICHAEL: representatives elected?

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, why don't you go first on that?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I'm just looking at the latest figures and I'm glad I had them to hand, actually. I'm seeing PAN with 33, PRD with 29 and PRI with something less than that. But, again, I, you know, I would have to double check what the latest figures are.

But basically the PAN looks like it's going to have the majority, but not an absolute majority, followed by the PRD, closely followed, and then the PRI -this is one of the big stories, really, of this election, which, of course, has not been told yet fully because of what's happening - but that the PRI, the party, you know, that was in power for 71 years, really did not do well at all, and their candidate, Roberto Madrazo, got about 20 percent of the vote and, you know, that really is going to change things here. Now, whether or not, you know, the PRI and the PRD are going to make an alliance, perhaps, you know, parts of them will cooperate on certain things. You know, it remains to be seen. I mean, there have been rumblings of that already.

CONAN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, we know you've got extra work to do. There's this other program on later today. We're going to let you go. Thanks very much for your time.


CONAN: But I wanted to ask Professor Womack before we let him go if this could be a part of the difficulty you mentioned earlier about the left having difficulty splits on its side.

Prof. WOMACK: Yes, it, I - one of the - some - either of you mentioned earlier, the conflicts that Fox faced in Congress. There'll be tremendous conflicts in this Congress. The parties are more even in, as Ms. Garcia just mentioned, in Congress than they are on the presidential vote. And they're full of very savvy people who will be continually trying to undercut each other, making alliances against the president but sometimes making an alliance with the president -whichever one is, but back and forth.

So I think it will be difficult beyond any living memory in Mexico to get coherent legislation passed. And it's going to have major effects on government policy, and it will take extraordinary skills from whichever guy wins the presidency to get any kind of stability just in policy, much less to get legislation across.

CONAN: Michael, thanks for the call. We appreciate it.

MICHAEL: Okay. One question...

CONAN: Oh, I think we've lost Michael. I hung up on him. He had one more question, but we'll get to it next time we discuss it. It looks like it's going to be dragging on for some time.

John Womack, Jr., thank you very much for your time. We appreciate it.

Prof. WOMACK: Thank you.

CONAN: John Womack, Jr., the Robert Woods Bliss professor of Latin American history and economics at Harvard University. He joined us from a studio on the campus at Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

When we come back, Political Junkie.

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