Secrecy in recount raises suspicions

Doubts about close Mexican election linger

September 09, 2006|By Hector Tobar | Hector Tobar,Los Angeles Times

MEXICO CITY -- Top electoral officials and judges are feeding doubts about the outcome of Mexico's presidential vote by declining to release details about a recount of 4 million ballots and by moving quickly to destroy all 41 million ballots, legal experts said yesterday.

The seven judges of the Federal Electoral Tribunal declared conservative candidate Felipe Calderon president-elect on Tuesday. But their 300-page ruling on the election left some experts shaking their heads.

John Ackerman, a professor of law at the National University of Mexico, said the judges had made no effort to investigate improprieties in electoral financing and other charges made by losing leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The ruling also failed to cite a single legal precedent in its rejection of a Lopez Obrador bid to have the election annulled, Ackerman said.

The court opened ballot boxes and recounted 4 million votes, but did so only to determine whether there was evidence of outright fraud - and declared that they had found none. The actual tallies from the recount were not released to the public.

"The tribunal is explicitly preventing us from seeing what actually happened in the partial recount," Ackerman said. "The result of all this is that we don't have certainty about the election."

A spokesman for the Federal Electoral Tribunal said the judges would not comment on their ruling. He said no further information would be released on the recount.

On Thursday, the Federal Electoral Institute (known as the IFE in Spanish), the independent body charged with organizing elections, denied a request by Ackerman, the investigative magazine Proceso and others to have access to the ballots.

By law, ballots here are destroyed after an election is certified as official. But the law does not stipulate when destruction should be carried out.

Irma Sandoval, director of the National University's Laboratory for the Study and Analysis of Corruption and Transparency in Mexico, said the request for the ballots was made through Mexico's fledgling public records act. That law grants access to any document not covered by privacy and national security restrictions.

"The IFE denied our request because they said the ballots are not documents," Sandoval said. "The ballots are printed by the government. But the IFE said that at the moment a citizen marks the ballot, it's no longer a document. It's a very metaphysical argument."

Writers Elena Poniatowska and Carlos Monsivais, both of whom supported Lopez Obrador's presidential bid, also joined the petition seeking access to the ballots.

Sandoval said she and others requesting access to the ballots were considering an appeal to the Supreme Court to keep the IFE from destroying them.

Sandoval compared this presidential election to 1988, when the government of Miguel de la Madrid burned ballots rather than allow a recount that might have proved leftist candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas' allegations of fraud.

Lorenzo Cordova, a law professor at the National University, said that while the election was flawed in many ways, it was mostly a success. On Election Day, he said, all of the political parties praised the IFE's conduct of the election.

Hector Tobar writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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