Democracy in Mexico on siesta

The highest federal court in Mexico rejected fraud claims in the July presidential election.

Tanks guard the Mexican Congressional building while protesters fill the streets of Mexico City, crippling the business and tourism districts. This is the situation that President-elect Felipe Calderón inherits. He led in the July 2 election by a scant 233,000 votes out of 41.5 million, and the presidency had been in legal limbo since that date.

Calderón was declared president on Tuesday by the highest court in Mexico after charges of fraud levied by his opponent, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, were thrown out.

After conducting a recount of only 9 percent of the total polling stations, the court determined that all irregularities would not change the outcome of the vote.

By disallowing a full recount, the court has created more problems than it has solved. Opinion polls have shown that 39 percent of the people in Mexico believe that fraud occurred, and a refusal to even examine the votes in totality has only fueled the anger of many Mexicans toward the incoming president.

López Obrador already has promised to continue his campaign of civil resistance and has threatened to create a parallel government. The implications of such a move would throw Mexico’s already fragile democracy into even greater turmoil.

Full recount, perhaps with international observers, could do much to disarm this potentially violent situation. If Calderón’s victory were to be upheld through recount, his presidency could start on a solid footing of legitimacy that it does not now enjoy and could dispel much of the resistance to him. Or, alternately, the recount could validate López Obrador’s claim that he is the true winner.

As it stands, Calderón did not, and will not, support any recount, no matter how limited the scope. López Obrador refuses to accept anything but a total annulment of the election results, and the court seems content to allow the country to be torn apart politically without doing everything in its power to make sure that democracy has been honored.

As has so often been the case in Mexico’s history, the people deserve far better than their government seems willing to deliver.