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The World

Mexico's Election Doubts May Linger

September 09, 2006|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

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 Friday.

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

John M. Ackerman, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the judges had made no effort to investigate possible financing improprieties and other charges made by leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The ruling also failed to cite any legal precedents in its refusal to have the election annulled, Ackerman said.

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

"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."

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

On Thursday, the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, which organizes elections, denied a request by Ackerman and others to have access to the ballots.

By law, ballots here are destroyed after an election is certified, but the law does not stipulate when.

Irma Sandoval, director of the National Autonomous University's Laboratory for the Study and Analysis of Corruption and Transparency in Mexico, said the ballot request was made through the fledgling public records act, which grants access to documents 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, who supported Lopez Obrador's presidential bid, joined the petition seeking access to the ballots.

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

The IFE's rejection of the request led Sandoval to compare this election to 1988, when the outgoing government burned ballots rather than allow a recount that might have proved leftist candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas' allegations of fraud in his loss to ruling party nominee Carlos Salinas de Gortari.

"All of the reforms we've had since 1988 have been designed to bring the left back into the electoral process, and now the left is on the street," Sandoval said. "If the IFE proceeds with the rushed and premature destruction of the ballots, then the comparisons to 1988 will be more than apt."

Lorenzo Cordova, a law professor at the National Autonomous University, said that although the election was flawed, it was mostly a success. On election day, he said, all of the political parties praised the way the IFE conducted the vote.

"The errors of the IFE were in communication," Cordova said, after the narrow margin between Calderon and Lopez Obrador became clear. "They didn't know how to face a politically delicate situation in the way they released information in the days after the election. They created a lot of doubts."

Cordova said he opposed granting public access to the ballots because there was no guarantee a "citizen recount" would follow established standards. But he said the election had shown the need for new reforms, including improved regulation of the media and private financing of campaigns.

*

hector.tobar@latimes.com

Carlos Martinez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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