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Beast of the Month - August 2006
Felipe Calderon, Losing Mexican Presidential Candidate
"I yam an anti-Christ..."
John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) of The Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the UK"
For all the faults of the GOP, you have to give them credit for knowing how to follow a winning strategy. Unfortunately, that winning strategy involves stealing elections.
It's not hard to suspect that is what's being planned in California, the biggest state in the USA. On March 2005, Kevin Shelley, the Golden State's Secretary of State, resigned from office under threats of criminal investigation and a cloud of supposed scandal. A year and a half later, he still hasn't been charged with a single crime, which supports the belief he was hounded from office in a politically motivated vendetta. The reason? Shelley, a Democrat, was a leading force against electronic voting, decertifying the usage of certain machines, demanding a verifiable paper trail for all electronic machines in use and launching an investigation of machine manufacturer Diebold for criminal prosecution. (In an October 2002 interview with Konformist editor Robert Sterling, which perhaps sparked Shelley's concern over the issue, a Shelley camp rep conceded if someone like Katherine Harris was in charge of insuring the integrity of electronic voting machines, "We'd be screwed.") His replacement, appointed by the specially-elected Governor Schwarzenegger after the ouster of Gray Davis, is Arnold's fellow Republican Bruce McPherson, who unsurprisingly (in true Kat Harris-Kenneth Blackwell style) recertified the Diebold machines, publicly opposes a paper trail for electronic machines and has launched a computerized "Voter Registration Database" for new voters (who are more liberal than previous voters) that rejected 43 percent of all LA County applicants through March 15 of this year. Meanwhile, temp-worker Stephen Heller leaked to reporters transcripts of audiotapes he received from Diebold lawyers, in which they admitted the company violated a $12 million contract with the state by changing its voting machines software. His reward: prosecution by right-wing Republican Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, for theft (though he stole nothing) and violation of attorney-client privilege (though he isn't an attorney.) As for Diebold itself, it has yet to be prosecuted, though it did pay $2.6 million to settle the lawsuit (filed by Shelley) charging it had given false information to the state about the security and reliability of its machines (less than a quarter it received in the contract Heller provided whistle-blowing evidence on.) Diebold, coincidentally, is a heavy contributor to the Republican party. Then again, perhaps the charismatic Schwarzenegger and the pseudo-incumbent McPherson can win their November elections legitimately, despite the overwhelmingly Democratic Party leanings of California voters (the Democrats swept all eight state offices in 2002.) But if they and other Republicans win dubious "victories" in 2006, you heard of 2006 Votescam in California at The Konformist first...
Of course, the GOP isn't just interested in using votescam within its borders. In Mexico (or, as it is known as by the California Reconquista, Aztlan South) vote fraud is the hottest new export from the USA, alongside industrial jobs.
As usual when election chicanery is involved, muckraking journalist Greg Palast was the first to warn of the attempt to steal the Mexican presidency - two days before the election had even taken place. In retrospect, it shouldn't have been too surprising. The battle between the Bush-friendly Felipe Calderon (The Konformist Beast of the Month) of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) was one that had ramifications across the Latin America. A Lopez Obrador victory would follow a string of leftist ballot conquests in the region this decade, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Peru and (most notable of all) Venezuela under Hugo Chavez. Indeed, it is likely that any Bush Team concern over the results in Mexico was less about Mexico itself and more about Chavez. Chavez, after all, has bashed the made-in-the-USA Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) plan as another failed neoliberal trade agreement that would gouge the Latin American masses, and instead has pushed for a Latin American union to both enrich the region and counterbalance the power and influence of El Norte. A leftist victory in Mexico, right next to the United States border, would make Chavez's plan all the more likely to succeed. (For his part, Lopez Obrador had promised to renegotiate NAFTA if he won the Presidency, and used as his campaign slogan "For the Good of Everyone, the Poor First.")
Let's give Calderon some credit: after widely trailing Lopez Obrador in March, he engaged in good ol' fashion mudslinging that, while not on the level of the John Kerry swiftboating, would nonetheless do Lee Atwater proud. Calderon decided to "go negative" in commercials and portray his opponent as a demagogue (just like Mr. Chavez, of course) who would bring back hyperinflation and currency devaluations. As with the Kerry swiftboating, the strategy worked by feeding middle class fears, and made the race a competitive one. Still, as Greg Palast noted, an exit poll by the Instituto de Mercadotecnia y Opinion (with sample data of 80,000 voters) tallied Lopez Obrador as the victor of the race. As Konformist readers would know, exit polls are the most accurate kind of poll, and any results which don't match exit poll results should logically be met with suspicions of fraud.
Which leads to the logical suspicion of the results in Mexico. On July 2, the preliminary results of the election were announced, with Calderon winning 36.38 percent of the vote to Lopez Obrador's 35.34. The official count, begun on July 5 and ending the following day, was even closer, with Calderon winning 35.89 to 35.31. The cumulative tallies of the votes make the results even more suspicious: with more than 90 percent of the votes counted, Lopez Obrador still had a one point lead in the race, a lead he didn't relinquish until 97.7 percent of the votes were tallied. Looking at these unusual results, Professor Victor Romero of Mexicos National University concluded they were a statistical impossibility. It appears to follow a common vote-rigging strategy of stuffing votes late in the game when what is needed to win becomes better known. The Lopez Obrador camp has already documented voter irregularities in 50,000 of the 130,000 polling places.
Vote stuffing hardly appears to be the solitary con used here. There were 827,000 votes in the race which were either spoiled or blank (or, as Palast refers to them, votes for Senor Blank-o.) This is over twice the margin of Calderon's supposed victory of 402,000 votes. In the US in 2004, 88 percent of all officially blank ballots were cast in minority areas, aided by old and malfunctioning machines used in these poorer areas. In perhaps a related fact, voter turnout in the state of Guerrero (a Lopez Obrador stronghold) was officially only 44 percent, compared to 60 percent nationwide. Meanwhile, the Bush Administration (supposedly as part of the War on Terror, though oddly Osama bin Laden is from Saudi Arabia, not Mexico) picked ChoicePoint, in a no-bid contract, to "obtain" (i.e. steal) personal information from voter records in Mexico, as well as nine other Latin American nations. (Coincidentally, ChoicePoint is the same company that created a list in Florida for Jeb Bush of primarily black voters to scrub from rolls before the 2000 election.) When the theft was uncovered, Mexico's attorney general filed charges against the company, who returned the data, though it was in the Bush Team's tentacles by then. What did Bush and his minions do with this data? Perhaps ask the International Republican Institute, a GOP-front that provided "tactical training" to PAN during the election, funded by the American public no less through the Orwellian-named National Endowment for Democracy. Unsurprisingly, Palast and his investigation team in Mexico City have already found voters in poor neighborhoods complaining their names "disappeared" from the voter rolls.
How will this all end up? Probably not good. In the Shrub era, the only examples of supposed election-theft being stopped in the world have been the Rose and Orange Revolutions of the former Soviet republics Georgia and Ukraine. In both cases, the eventual winners were backed by the Bush Administration and the US korporate media (the support of which appears to be more about power politics and oil than the validity of their election fraud claims.) Lopez Obrador has the support of neither: Bush has already congratulated a smirking Calderon for his "victory" in the race, and the korporate press has already indicated that if he continues to fight, Lopez Obrador will be labeled a "Sore-Loserman" and destroy his political credibility. (Unsurprisingly, these arguments were never heard in the Georgia-Ukraine elections.) Adding to the likelihood of the election theft is that it wouldn't be a first for modern times in Mexico: in 1988, another PRD candidate, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, lost to Carlos Salinas in an election that even establishment mouthpieces now concede was a fraud, and led to the assassination of two top PRD officials.
Then again, Lopez Obrador isn't Al Gore, Mexico isn't the USA, and 2006 isn't 1988 (or 2000 or 2004, for that matter.) In 1994, Lopez Obrador lost a close race for governor of Tabasco against Roberto Madrazo (ironically, the third-place candidate in the 2006 election.) The election was plagued with widespread evidence of fraud and graft, and Lopez Obrador led his supporters on massive street protests and a march to Mexico City. Though ultimately losing, he apparently learned much from this defeat and appears ready to fight for democratic justice. He has already survived a 2005 plot by PAN and Mexico's Attorney General to block him from the ballot by prosecuting him on bogus misdemeanor charges. He survived thanks to millions of Mexicans, who took to the streets in his support, forcing President Vicente Fox to step in and drop the charges. His populist strategy of waging street politics has already begun again: on July 30, more than two million of his supporters marched the streets of Mexico City in protest, and in Oaxaca, they shut down the tourist attraction city with their civil disobedience.
Seeing these protests, it is hard to dismiss the battle in Mexico as game over. While Calderon's strength came from the wealthy and middle class, Lopez Obrador's followers are mainly the impoverished in Mexico City and the southern states. These are people who have little to lose in waging protests that could lead to a literal civil war (and this is before the Zapatista movement has even stepped into the potential chaos.) All they are demanding is a legitimate recount of the votes, which seems reasonable considering the razor-like official lead of Calderon in the race. That Calderon and his cronies are balking at this simple request says all you need to know about where he stands on election integrity. But hopefully the final word on the election comes not from Calderon, but rather from Apolinario Fernandez, a teacher from Tabasco interviewed by the Associated Press. On Calderon, Fernandez had this to say: "We are never going to recognize this man. If he wants, let him govern in the north for the rich, but not in the south."
In any case, we salute Felipe Calderon as Beast of the Month. Congratulations, and keep up the great work, Felipe!!!
For more on the battle over electronic voting in California:
Al-Aqeel, Tamadhur. "Whistle-Blower Protection Depends On Who Hears Whistle." Los Angeles Daily Journal 21 April 2006.
Winograd, Marcy. "Congressional Contender Winograd Calls on McPherson to Scrap New Voter ID Rule That Disengages Electorate, Disenfranchises New Voters and Sends Wrong Message about Democracy." Marcy Winograd for Congress 2006 <http://www.winogradforcongress.com/mcpherson.htm>.
On Votescam in Mexico:
Galbraith, James K. "Doing Math In Mexico." Guardian 18 July 2006.
Grillo, Ioan. "Protesters Take Over Oaxaca, Mexico." ABC News 22 July 2006 <http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=2221234&CMP=OTC-RSSFeeds0312>.
Palast, Greg. "Mexico and Florida Have More in Common than Heat." GregPalast.com 8 July 2006 <http://www.gregpalast.com/Mexico%20and%20Florida%20have%20more%20in%20common%20than%20heat>.
Palast, Greg. "'Senor Blank-o' wins in Mexico." GregPalast.com 6 July 2006 <http://www.gregpalast.com/senor-blank-o-wins-in-mexico>.
Palast, Greg. "We Don't Need No Stinkin' Recount." GregPalast.com 7 August 2006 <http://www.gregpalast.com/we-dont-need-no-stinkin-recount>.
Stevenson, Mark. "Lopez Obrador Backers Slow Mexico City." Washington Post 1 August 2006 <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/31/AR2006073100223_pf.html>.
Tobar, Hector. "Confusion Grips Mexico Election." Los Angeles Times 03 July 2006.
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