Friday, August 31, 2012

Mexico Tribunal Rejects Bid to Annul Presidential Election Results

After Mexico’s supreme electoral tribunal turned down Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s bid to annul the July presidential election, Enrique Peña Nieto will likely be officially confirmed as Mexico’s president-elect in the next few weeks. As Reuters reports, all seven members of the Federal Electoral Tribunal rejected Lopez Obrador’s challenge, with one justice stating, "There is no proven vote buying, no evident coercion or illicit inducement.”

The AP argues that this flies in the face of the reality of the election, noting that the tribunal rejected evidence that Peña Nieto’s party the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) bought hundreds of pre-paid gift cards at a grocery store and distributed them before the election:

The Associated Press interviewed about a half dozen people among shoppers who mobbed one Soriana store two days after the elections to redeem the cards; almost all said PRI supporters had given them the cards, expecting they would vote for the party.

But members of the tribunal said there was not sufficient evidence of vote buying, and the AP affirms that they did not interview anyone who had received the gift cards. Justice Pedro Penagros: “Even though the existence of the Soriana cards is proven ... it has not been proven they were handed out, nor that they were in exchange for votes for Enrique Peña Nieto."

Animal Politico examines the tribunal’s decisions before the eight complaints formally submitted by Lopez Obrador’s leftist coalition, which extend far beyond allegations of gift card handouts. But the tribunal’s decision before these various complaints -- which include excessive campaign spending, voting irregularities on election day, and misuse of polls -- can be summarized as follows: not enough evidence.

The leftist coalition suffered another blow when the tribunal fined them for a TV spot that accused Peña Nieto’s campaign of using laundered funds, reports Proceso. The tribunal affirmed that such allegations were based on “insinuation and rumor,” rather than fact.

In reaction to the court’s ruling, Peña Nieto tweeted that “it was time to begin a new stage of work in favor of Mexico.” In order for him to be officially declared Mexico’s president-elect, the Federal Electoral Tribunal must issue its official declaration and formally notify Congress, no later than September 6, according to Animal Politico.

Supporters from Lopez Obrador’s leftist coalition issued strong criticism of the tribunal’s decision. Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) politician Ricardo Monreal called it a perversion of democracy, and added, “No one can justify what happened, it was the most shameless vote-buying in Mexico’s history.” Other leftist representative said they would refuse to recognize a Peña Nieto presidency.

While Lopez Obrador supporters are likely to continue to hold rallies protesting the court’s decision in the days to come, the question is how long such a movement can be sustained. As Proceso reports, members of Mexico’s “I Am 132” movement quickly organized a protest outside the Federal Electoral Tribunal building late Thursday night in reaction to the decision, prompting police to erect a barricade around the building. Political risk analyst Alejandro Schtulmann told the Wall Street Journal that the movement may not last for long: "It has lost credibility among the middle class, and doesn't have the same level of acceptance," Schtulmann told the newspaper. "There could be a spike in activity, but I don't think it's sustainable."

News Briefs
  • Wednesday, Guatemala’s highest court upheld its decision to allow the extradition of former president Alfonso Portillo to the US, where he is charged with laundering some $70 million. The court ruled in November 2011 that Portillo could be extradited, but the ex-president’s legal team challenged the decision in February. The US Embassy in Guatemala issued a statement praising the court’s ruling, calling it a step forward in Guatemala’s fight against impunity, reports the AP.
  • El Mundo reports that August was the least violent month so far this year in El Salvador, registering 93 fewer murders than August 2011 (while a tally for the total number of homicides does not yet appear to be available, in August 2011 police registered some 377 murders, recording an average daily murder rate of 16 killings a day). In contrast, in August 2012 the murder rate was just 5.24 homicides a day. Contrapunto notes that according to security minister David Mungia Payes, between January and August there were 952 fewer murders compared to the same time period last year (which registered about 2,857 murders). 
  • A sweeping new affirmative action law in Brazil will require public universities to reserve half their spots for poor and Afro-Brazilian students, reports the New York Times. While the law raised little controversy in Congress -- only one senator out of 81 voted against it -- some critics argue that the emphasis on affirmative action could “undercut the quality of Brazil’s public university system,” according to the Times. Other observers emphasized how the landmark law will make university more accessible than ever for students who were previously shut out. Former president Lula da Silva: “Try finding a black doctor, a black dentist, a black bank manager, and you will encounter great difficulty. It’s important, at least for a span of time, to guarantee that the blacks in Brazilian society can make up for lost time.”
  • Ecuadorian journalist Emilio Palacio of El Universal has been granted political asylum in the US. Palacio was among the four El Universal journalists whom President Rafael Correa sued for slander in 2011, after Palacio penned an editorial calling Correa a “dictator.” 
  • The Economist examines the legal case against former Mexico president Ernesto Zedillo, who oversaw Mexico’s transition to democracy in 2000. Zedillo is currently being sued by a group of 10 alleged indigenous survivors of a 1997 massacre in Chiapas, who have filed a suit in a civil court in the US and are seeking some $50 million in damages. But the Economist notes that there are plenty of fishy characteristics about the case. All 10 plantiffs are anonymous, and some residents in the tiny indigenous community where the massacre took place say that the plantiffs are not actually survivors. Neither are they “publicly supported by any of the many NGOs that are devoted to such causes,” the Economist notes. And their Miami-based lawyer specializes in corporate law rather than human rights. All this raises the question of whether the case against Zedillo is actually an attempt by his shadowy rivals to exact revenge against him for taking a stand against the PRI (which included ordering the arrest of former president Raul Salinas’ brother). The Economist adds that the case will likely have serious ramifications for President Felipe Calderon, as it could create a precedent allowing victims of Mexico’s drug war to sue him for the approximate 60,000 dead during his presidency.
  • Venezuela’s electoral council ordered that an opposition party take an ad off the air which depicted a dead body, in order to highlight Venezuela’s struggles with crime and security, reports the AP.
  • Richard Seymour in the Guardian praises the ways in which Chile’s student mass protests have joined up with other movements, including the labor unions, creating “an incredibly optimistic, energised and combative left that dares to challenge the country's social order in a fundamental way for the first time in decades.”

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