It all happened so fast.
At 6:00 PM on election day in Mexico, polls closed with many still lining up to vote. At 7:00 PM, poll workers at the precinct we were observing in the Iztapalapa Delegation of Mexico City were still canceling unused ballots in preparation for beginning the official count. At 8:00 PM, the results of exit polls were allowed to be released. By 8:08 PM, as we were still in the car driving back to the city center, José Antonio Meade of the ruling PRI party conceded defeat. Precisely a half-hour later, just as we were going live on Jacobin Magazine to report results, this was followed by the concession of Ricardo Anaya from the PAN. In a country plagued by violence and with a long, lamentable history of electoral frauds, it was game over by 9:00 PM: Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) was the virtual president-elect.
AMLO’s victory was overwhelming and, by any measure, fraud-proof: according to preliminary results by the National Electoral Institute (INE), he won some 53% of the votes, over 30 points clear of Ricardo Anaya with 22.5% and Meade at 16.4%; the independent Jaime Rodríguez Calderón came in at a little over 5%. AMLO won in the north and south, east and west, sweeping every state in the nation except the conservative bastion of Guanajuato. And the triumph came with coattails attached: in Congress, his coalition of MORENA-PT-PES was set to pick up 303 of the 500 seats in the lower House of Deputies, and 70 of 128 seats in the Senate; the first time since the elections of 1994 that a president will have majorities in both houses. It will also be the most gender-equal Congress in Mexico’s history, with nearly half of all seats – 243 in the lower house and 63 in the Senate – to be occupied by women. In addition, the MORENA-led coalition picked up the governer’s houses in Mexico City (whose new constitution gives it the status of a state), Tabasco, Veracruz, Chiapas, and Morelos, along with a host of state legislatures and mayorships.
But despite the INE’s predictable self-congratulation about having presided over a “civic festival,” the election was hardly a squeaky-clean exercise in democracy. At the Iztapalapa precincts we observed, evidence of vote-buying was rampant, with voters taking pictures of their ballots in the voting booths, together with an identifying item such as a ticket or wristband, in order to receive a subsequent payment. And these incidents were hardly limited to our precincts: the citizens’ organization Democracia sin pobreza (Democracy Without Poverty) prepared a detailed map of confirmed vote-buying throughout the country, complete with time, date, location, and, where possible, photographic evidence. According to its accompanying price chart, the amount offered per vote ranged from $100 pesos ($5.25 USD) in the State of Baja California Norte to up to $10,000 pesos in Mexico City ($524.50 USD) – a staggering indication of how much dirty money flows through Mexican campaigns, despite public financing and ostensibly strict campaign-spending limits. All in all, the organization estimates that some nine million people agreed to sell their vote for this year’s elections, or 10.2% of registered voters, with one in three having received an offer to do so. For its part, the Red Universitaria y Ciudadana por la Democracia (University and Citizens’ Network for Democracy), which fielded some 200 national and international observers both on election day and at subsequent district-level recounts, has filed 34 complaints with the Special Prosecutor’s Office for Electoral Crimes (FEPADE) regarding alleged electoral offenses in twelve states. Unfortunately, due to legal limits on its powers and external political pressure, the FEPADE’s record for punishing such crimes is not a good one.
And while the lion’s share of media attention has been lavished on the presidential race, these practices are having real effects on other races, the most notorious of which is the contest for governor of the State of Puebla. According to official statistics, the candidate for the PAN-PRD coalition, Martha Erika Alonso Hidalgo (the wife of current governor Rafael Moreno Valle) leads the MORENA-coalition candidate, Miguel Barbosa Huerta, by four points, 38% to 34%. The election, however, has been a case study in old-fashioned political thuggery from the start. On election day, two members of the PRI were assassinated, eight more people were wounded, and eighteen sets of ballot boxes were assaulted by armed groups; a total of 70 electoral packets were ultimately stolen. Ballots and official precinct result sheets were found in the river, in the trunks of cars, and in a hotel conference room where, MORENA alleges, a veritable “electoral laboratory” was set up to falsify electoral returns. Amongst the 45 party functionaries detained by the FEPADE were party functionaries from the Alonso campaign and even a judge from the state court. And as Puebla goes, so could the nation very well have gone had the difference between AMLO and his opponents been closer.
After wrapping up our broadcast on the election results, we headed for Mexico City’s main square, the Zócalo, to report on the celebrations breaking out there. The atmosphere was electric. After 12 years, the movement headed by AMLO had finally broken through the corrupt, fraudulent stranglehold in which the political and economic elite had held Mexico and its institutions for decades. AMLO arrived as the virtual president-elect and fired everyone further up with a short speech promising not to fail them. As he departed from the stage, the crowd broke out spontaneously into the national anthem. This wasn’t just an election; it was the taking back of a nation.
This article was originally published on MexElects.