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Mexico: People in the streets over stolen election

From Green Left Weekly, September 27, 2006.
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MEXICO: Convention elects AMLO as legitimate president

Neville Spencer


On September 16 — Independence Day — 1,025,724 registered delegates and many thousands of others gathered at the National Democratic Convention in Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo. Accusing right-wing president-elect Felipe Calderon of usurping power through electoral fraud, they elected Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known as AMLO) as Mexico’s legitimate president.

The official result announced following the July 2 presidential election put Calderon 0.58% ahead of AMLO, who stood as the candidate of the left-leaning For the Good of All coalition.

AMLO accused the National Action Party (PAN), to which Calderon and current president Vicente Fox belong, of orchestrating widespread fraud. Evidence was produced of fraud in many polling places and a full recount of the vote was called for, though even this could not have resolved problems such as destroyed or stuffed ballot boxes. Following a series of massive protests, the Federal Electoral Tribunal agreed to recount only 9% of polling places, resulting in only minor changes to the official tally.

The call for the National Democratic Convention was made by AMLO when it became clear that no significant action was going to be taken to address the charges of fraud.

In spite of rain, an estimated 1.5-2 million turned out. Even the sizeable Zocalo could not contain the crowd. Part of the convention was the endorsement of a “plan of resistance”. This includes numerous protests, not just against the electoral fraud, but also against a variety of different threats to the wellbeing of Mexico’s workers and poor posed by a new PAN government.

A national day of action against the privatisation of energy is part of the plan. The PAN has proposed privatising electricity and the state oil company Pemex. Pemex is one of the world’s largest oil companies. The nationalisation of oil, which took place in the 1930s, has been a source of national pride for Mexico. Until the neoliberal turn of the 1980s, it was also a source of funding for some of the social benefits that Mexico had at a level above the standard of most Third World countries.

A week of action is planned for October around the defence of free state education.

The central act of the convention was the recognition of AMLO as the legitimate president. An alternate proposal, that he be “head of resistance”, was not as well supported, the argument given being that this would give too much legitimacy to Calderon’s election.

It was decided by the convention that AMLO would form a government and a swearing-in ceremony would be held on Mexico’s Revolution Day, November 20. This would put it ahead of Calderon’s swearing in on December 1. A mass mobilisation is also planned for that day to try to prevent Calderon being installed as president.

The convention itself was a continuation of the existing campaign against electoral fraud that began soon after the July ballot. The Zocalo had already been the site of earlier demonstrations, including the largest demonstration in Mexico’s history on July 30. The crowd at that demonstration was estimated at up to 2.4 million.

The Zocalo and surrounding area had also been under a continuous occupation for several weeks prior to the convention, with AMLO directing the campaign from a tent in the square.

On September 1, deputies from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), of which AMLO is a member, disrupted Fox’s attempt to give the annual state-of-the-nation address to the parliament. Instead it was handed out in written form.

Fox was also forced to avoid protesters the night before the convention. It is traditional for the president to give the “grito” from a balcony of the National Palace overlooking the Zocalo the night before Independence Day. With the Zocalo full of demonstrators, Fox stayed away.

Although the convention set the stage for a continued mass movement, it is still quite possible that the movement will fade. The convention marked the lifting of the occupation of the Zocalo, even though new plans for protest were made. The PRD, which is the dominant component of the For the Good of All coalition, is a generally social-democratic party used to not rocking the boat too much.

Another PRD leader, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, was also robbed of a probable victory in the 1988 presidential election. He chose not to try to mobilise any resistance for fear that it might lead to violence.

Both AMLO and the movement around him at least seem to be in a more combative mood than that. A letter from Cardenas was read out at the convention opposing the idea of declaring AMLO president and calling for the institutional order to be respected. The reaction of the crowd was one of anger.

The alternative government to be formed by AMLO is not going to actually exercise any power but will primarily be symbolic, though it could act as an organiser of ongoing opposition. Even if protests fail to force Calderon from power and fade away, the mood of militancy will at least be notched up over the coming period.

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