TOPICS > Politics

Early Results Give Slim Lead to Conservative Candidate

July 3, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT
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TRANSCRIPT

RAY SUAREZ: One newspaper headline says it all: “Quien?” Who?

MAN (through translator): It is hard to know who is going to win. The fight is tough.

RAY SUAREZ: There’s optimism and confidence in the process.

MAN (through translator): I think the elections were clean, but I think the candidates should have shut up until the authorities issue the final results.

MAN (through translator): No one is cheating. Our people are awakened. All we are waiting for is the winner to be declared, and we will be OK, whoever wins.

RAY SUAREZ: And, in the midst of a disputed result, a cynicism built on years of cheating and cooking the results.

(through translator): I was hoping for Lopez Obrador, but I am resigned to the fact that Felipe Calderon is going to be placed in the job.

RAY SUAREZ: After Sunday’s elections, dueling claims of victory ping-ponged back and forth. When Sunday became Monday, Mexico had two self-declared winners, two victorious presidents, and two sets of happy supporters.

As Mexicans are probably asking this morning, que paso? What happened?

Two men declare victory

Felipe Calderon
Mexican Presidential Candidate
The mandate of the ballot box is clear. The citizens are demanding from all of us that it is time to put aside our differences and to start looking at what we can agree upon.

DAN LUND, Pollster: What happened is, the election was just too close to call. About the same number of people, maybe very close to the same number of people, voted for the PAN, the party of the center-right, and for the PRD, the party of the center-left. And that's where we are.

RAY SUAREZ: Last night, the two leading camps waited for a call from the Instituto Federal Electoral, the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, based on exit polling in 300 precincts meant to reflect the country's demographic diversity. Along with that official exit poll, the campaigns had their own, and the big media outlets still more.

But, at 8:00, when the last balloting in Baja, California, closed, the IFE announced, its exit polls had one candidate leading -- they didn't say which one -- but by an amount smaller than the margin of error, 2 percent, so, there would be no declaration of a winner.

That didn't stop the Lopez Obrador campaign team. They declared that a majority of the nationwide exit polls had their man ahead, so they were going ahead with their victory celebration in Mexico City's central square.

Across town, a slightly different version of events was unfolding. Felipe Calderon said, whichever way you looked at the polls and the tabulated numbers, he was the winner.

FELIPE CALDERON, Mexican presidential candidate (through translator): The mandate of the ballot box is clear. The citizens are demanding from all of us that it is time to put aside our differences and to start looking at what we can agree upon.

The Mexico of the future requires everyone's unity, above any party differences that have been expressed during this campaign. It is time to begin a new stage of national reconciliation. To accomplish that, I will dedicate all of my efforts, starting today, so that Mexico begins a new stage.

RAY SUAREZ: All evening, PAN voters had been descending on the party's Mexico City headquarters, and, like Nora Zuniga, saw good news even in the less-than-conclusive results.

NORA ZUNIGA, Supporter of Felipe Calderon (through translator): I was very sure that tonight the Electoral Institute would name Felipe president, because he won. Truly, he won. Mexico won. But I don't know what happened. Maybe we just need to have the exact results, to have the real security that all of the people who voted, voted for Calderon. But I think we won. All the polls say it. The people say it.

RAY SUAREZ: But the PRD and its supporters flocked to Mexico City's huge central square, the Zocalo, despite the absence of an officially declared winner.

This large crowd that braved the rain for a celebration was up, down, and back up again. First, they were told by a party leader that their man, Lopez Obrador, had definitely won. Then, the head of the independent election commission for all of Mexico took to the national airwaves to announce there would be no results until Wednesday.

There were shouts of "Fraud" and "Thieves." Then, a few minutes later, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declared himself the winner.

RAY SUAREZ: The place exploded in celebration, and, after a few minutes more, the man on the big projection screen was right there on stage, insisting victory was his.

ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR, Mexican presidential candidate (through translator): I have information from the quick counts of results from the polls from a very representative poll. It tells us we're ahead by at least 500,000 votes.

I have always said that democracy, you can win or lose, even if it's by one vote. Today, I will keep that commitment. But I must tell you that we are going to defend our triumph.

LOPEZ OBRADOR (through translator): We are not going to allow them to cheat us out of the result.

Questions remain to be answered

Dan Lund
Pollster
So, we have a number of questions that will emerge that are similar to questions of what happened in close balloting in Italy, Germany and the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: The left-wing candidate left the Zocalo and released a happy crowd into central Mexico City. But, through the long night, after the balloting closed, Lopez Obrador never had a lead. As the percentage counted rose through the night, Calderon's lead held.

By morning, it stood at roughly 1 percent, about 400,000 votes. If the final count has the winner closer than 1 percent to the second-place finisher, a nationwide recount is required. The Federal Election Institute worked hard to keep the system clean. Local volunteers staffed the ballot boxes in communities large and small.

A stranger wouldn't be counting the individual hand ballots for president, national legislature and local governments. It would be your neighbors. In Tianguistenco in Mexico state, farmers waited patiently to cast their vote, as work went on in the cornfields. This had long been a PRI stronghold. And the people here are extremely loyal to the only party in charge for most of their lives.

Here, and throughout the country, the once-unbeatable PRI has become a third party, beaten badly in the congress and for the presidency. The two principal candidates voted in Mexico City. Felipe Calderon strolled over to the polling place from his home, as did Lopez Obrador, setting off a photographic frenzy.

Down in the valley, from the swanky Santa Fe district, this working-class neighborhood was strong for Lopez Obrador. The voters remember his time as governor of the federal district, Mexico City. During that time, he increased public spending on transportation and pensions and promised to take increased spending on social welfare nationwide, along with assurances to keep the national oil monopoly in government hands and renegotiate the parts of NAFTA that threaten to put Mexican farmers under even more pressure in coming years from American imports.

Calderon, meanwhile, has told voters he will continue with Foxismo, the economic approach of his party's first president, Vicente Fox. Calderon has committed Mexico to a stable currency, low inflation and more open competition for Mexican manufacturers and farmers with the rest of the world. He wants to open the Mexican energy business to foreign investment, which is currently against the law.

The preliminary counts have a tiny margin for Calderon. What happens now?

DAN LUND: There's a discretional element, of course, in the board of each of the polling places to determine what's a proper ballot and where you marked it outside the box, the Mexican equivalent of the hanging chad. And, therefore, it goes into nullification. So, we have a number of questions that will emerge that are similar to questions of what happened in close balloting in Italy, Germany and the United States.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, both leaders have tried to grab the high ground, confidently asserting their claim to the presidency when Vicente Fox's term ends in December.

Mexico waits for a winner

Ray Suarez
Senior Correspondent
There's never been a result this close at the end. And they're testing new laws that have been put in place since the elections in 1988 that were put in place just for a happenstance like this one: What do we do when there's no clear winner?

GWEN IFILL: So, what next? I spoke with Ray from Mexico City earlier today.

Ray, it's good to see you.

RAY SUAREZ: Thanks, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: So, how do things stand tonight?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, approaching evening in Mexico City. With about 40 million votes cast, about a 60 percent turnout, there's one percentage point separating the two candidates, with Felipe Calderon of the PAN ahead of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the PRD. It's a very, very tight race, with about 98 percent of the vote counted.

Could that remaining 2 percent be enough to totally close that gap? No. But it could bring the count within 1 percent, and leave Lopez Obrador with a good case for a recount.

GWEN IFILL: Watching a close dead heat like this brings back memory of Florida 2000. How unusual is this kind of dead heat in an election in Mexico?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, this is totally uncharted territory for Mexico. Mexico has been having elections for a long time, but has really been only a competitive democracy for about a decade.

And this is their third presidential election with the possibility of a real competitive race. There's never been a result this close at the end. And they're testing new laws that have been put in place since the elections in 1988 that were put in place just for a happenstance like this one: What do we do when there's no clear winner?

GWEN IFILL: So, tell us, what do they do? What are the logistics of what triggers a recount, what a recount looks like?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, because there was not a clear result last night, immediately, the independent electoral commission sort of slowed down the process and said, we're not going to try to post the results until Wednesday night.

Tomorrow, the ballots and the counts will come in from all the state electoral commissions and be transported to the national office here in Mexico. The first verified count will simply be a tally, an adding-up, of all the results that were arrived at in the various states.

Now, each individual race has its own set of paper ballots. So, when a voter, let's say in the neighboring state of Mexico, tried to cast a ballot, they actually had to walk to the ballot boxes with separate pieces of paper, cast one for president, one for the state governor, one for the Mexican congress.

So, there is a lot of paper coming in from around the country. And it comes bundled with the totals on the outside. So, at -- at first, there's no effort to drill down into the results and actually examine those paper ballots to see what happened. That has to be requested by the candidates. And if one or the other is declared the loser in the preliminary totals tomorrow, the -- that candidate will probably mount a challenge, which will mean opening up those bundles and beginning to inspect the individual paper ballots.

Contested, but respected election

Ray Suarez
Senior Correspondent
The first reaction is that people are kind of relieved that, even with an ambiguous result... There's been no street demonstrations. There's been no direct action. There's been no calling out on to the streets from any of the parties.

GWEN IFILL: Sounds very low-tech and complicated, Ray. So, have there been any allegations so far like there were here in 2000 of fraud?

RAY SUAREZ: Only, only very speculative and very preliminary.

By common consent, this has been a pretty clean election, and certainly when compared with Mexican elections in the past. One interesting and very Florida-like possibility is an inspection of the nearly three-quarters-of-a-million ballots that registered no vote for president; 500,000 were considered nullified; 200,000, more or less, were considered not having a valid vote for president on it.

Now, what lies in that paper? Did someone make a check next to the party or over the name, instead of over the party symbol? It's hard to know what's in those paper ballots. And, really, it's only on the behest of the candidates themselves that the trigger points come in the Mexican electoral law that will cause those ballots to be opened, to be inspected, for an attempt to be made to see what's in them.

GWEN IFILL: Ray, we have heard, and we saw in your report, Obrador saying that maybe -- suggesting that he had been cheated out of a victory here.

And -- and, also, we have heard Calderon saying, we should appeal for unity. What has been the reaction in the streets, as they say, to -- to these appeals?

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the first reaction is that people are kind of relieved that, even with an ambiguous result, like we have come away with so far, everything has kind of held. There's been no street demonstrations. There's been no direct action. There's been no calling out on to the streets from any of the parties.

So, Mexicans are very proud and are telling reporters that they're very proud of the job they did running this election. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has hinted that he will fight, and has hinted in his public statements, and here in this square last night at a big rally, that he will resist being cheated out of his victory, having that victory robbed from him, which is kind of hot language, compared to that of Felipe Calderon, who, after all, is ahead and is able to sit back.

He's guiding people to his own party Web site, telling them to look at the changing figures. And he's trying to sit on that lead and ride it into the national palace, which is right behind me.

GWEN IFILL: But we're not seeing what we have seen in other countries where there have been disputed outcomes, like Ukraine. People aren't taking to the streets. There are no demonstrations. At least it doesn't seem like the tension is as high as maybe you would expect.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, so far, there's no evidence of that kind of thing happening. And, really, it might be waiting for a triggering event like Wednesday's report of the final election tabulation.

Absent that, there have been no calls to the street from any of the parties. And, right now, the country is kind of holding its breath to see what happens next. Last night, when speaking to a huge crowd here on the Zocalo, as you saw in my report, Lopez Obrador told his followers that he would respect the outcome of the election. But it seemed that he was saying that predicated on the belief that he had won.

We will see what happens if a result comes in Wednesday that indicates that it was close, but that he doesn't have enough votes to keep it within the margin, to stay in this race, and challenge Felipe Calderon.

GWEN IFILL: Ray, your reports have been fascinating. Thank you so much.

RAY SUAREZ: Good to talk to you, Gwen.