Thursday, July 06, 2006

The lessons of Mexico 

Although it may not have fully played out yet I think now is an appropriate time to draw some conclusions from the just concluded elections in Mexico. Some of these lessons will be general in nature, and some will be specific to the Venezuelan situation.

Let me start off by saying the official results show Felipe Calderon having won the election. By a very narrow margin to be sure but at this time it looks unlikely to be overturned. And unless there was some pretty significant fraud, evidence of which has yet to be presented, it is probably the case that Calderon really did get more votes and is therefore the president elect. Mexico would have been a big victory for the left, no two ways about it. And given the fraud of the past god knows the left in Mexico deserved to finally catch a break. But it looks like that was not to be on this occasion.

So what lessons do I draw from this likely defeat? Here are some:

First: Skipping the first debate almost certainly made AMLO look arrogant and cost him support. If you are putting yourself forward in the political arena as a person who has ideas to make the country better than you should have no problem putting those ideas to the test in a debate with people who think differently. Skipping the debate makes you look like you are not confident in your ideas or not confident of your ability to articulate them well. Both make you look unfit for office and will cost you support. In this race which was ultimately so close that mistake by AMLO alone could have cost him the election

The decision was probably a cynical political decision made because at the time he was way ahead of his opponents. Yet what appeared to be a good tactical move at the time proved fatal in the end. The moral of this is to do what is right, in this case willingly debate your opponent, and you will probably be better off in the end no matter what the twists and turns of the campaign are. Chavez may be 20 or 30 points ahead in the polls. But no matter. If the opposition decides to run in the elections then he should agree to debate whoever their candidates are.

Second: If you think that there are mistakes or fraud in an electoral process and want to make expose them make sure you have your ducks lined up first. AMLO came out on the night of the election saying that his count of the tally sheets (actas) showed him winning the election in spite of the official tally showing him losing. That would all be well and good - if he had actually had the tally sheets and if they truly did add up to show him winning. Yet it now appears that the tally sheets confirm that the PAN got more votes (whether or not the tally sheets are accurate is another question) as the new official count still shows PAN ahead and AMLO no longer seems to be contesting the total of the tally sheets. This confirms what the PAN had been saying all along, that the tally sheets showed them winning, and makes AMLO look either dishonest or sufficiently inept to make serious public claims without bothering to get the numbers right. Not good.

The reason this is such a mistake is that your own credibility is vitally important. AMLO doesn't have the law on his side - getting a full recount of all ballots, which he wants, will require some exceptions to be made to existing Mexican laws. Now most people, no matter which side they support, are willing to be reasonable about this and agree that if there is doubt about the accuracy of the vote actions should be taken to remove those doubts. However, for them to take seriously AMLOs accusations and be convinced there really are doubts about who won people have to think AMLO is credible on this. Yet by having made false accusations about the tally sheets he makes it less likely people will trust him enough to now want to go along with his other requests. He simply looks dishonest and looks like he is seeking advantage for himself rather than simply wanting an accurate count of the ballots. Hopefully they will still do a full recount of the ballots but AMLO didn't make things any easier by not being very careful to be completely honest and accurate in his statements.

The lesson here is honest, accurate, and prudent in what you do and say. As it pertains to Venezuela this is really a lesson the opposition needs to learn. They have made so many false accusations regarding fraud and other things that if they happen upon real fraud its doubtful if anyone will actually believe them. Yet there may be times when the Chavistas need to keep this lesson in mind too. Credibility is too important and too hard to get to just through away easily.

Third: While paper balloting might seem the way to go for transparent elections it has its own problems that make it not an acceptable solution. The Mexican election shows several drawbacks to paper ballots. First, although the election was on Sunday fairly definitive results weren't available until Thursday morning. Although rapid returns can be viewed as just a matter of convenience in this day and age most people expect them.

But more importantly, paper voting does not necessarily provide accurate results. One has to assume that thousands of people across a whole country can be trusted to compute results and report them accurately. There is not guarantee the people doing the counting will act in good faith. And even if they do they can certainly make significant errors. As was reported in the New York Times today in one city where a reporter witnessed some actual recounts of ballots in every instance the recount showed the tally sheet totals were wrong - sometimes by hundreds of votes. This is clearly not something that should be acceptable.

Further, to reduce the possibility of fraud many countries with manual voting institute rules whereby if there are certain inaccuracies in the tally sheet it is discarded and none of its votes counted. For example, if the number of votes on the tally sheet add up to more than the limit of voters at a particular voting station they may discard all the votes. This is the famous "acta mata vota" (literally - "tally sheet kills votes") where by to make sure there aren't any bad votes counted you wipe out lots of probably good votes. This would not be acceptable to most people and is one of the reasons that the Venezuelan government prior to Chavez finally decided that voting needed to be automated. To me this clearly indicates that Venezuela needs to stay with its computerized voting system. Of course, that system needs to have appropriate safeguards and that will a be a subject of another post.

These are the three main lessons I draw from the Mexican vote. A bitter defeat to be sure, but if some of these important lessons can be learnt and internalized some good may still come of


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?