It's Sunday evening in Mexico City, and I am watching the election returns from my hotel room at the Four Seasons, across the Paseo de la Reforma from the Marquis Reforma, where López Obrador is spending the election evening. I am also checking the website of IFE, the nonpartisan electoral commission that by and large seems to have been doing an excellent job.
7:55 p.m. The president of IFE is on the air explaining that polls were open in 99.94 percent of precincts. He is speaking seriously and slowly, so slowly I can almost understand his Spanish (a Mexican friend is with me, helping me to follow the coverage).
8 p.m. Televisa announces that its exit pollster Televisa Mitofsky has declared the presidential election too close to call. This is what one might have expected from the most recent polls and from what I have heard about the exit polls earlier this afternoon (not from anyone connected with the exit poll firms or their clients).
8:25 p.m. PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo previously agreed to IFE's request that he make no speech until 11 p.m. But now he is on television, in a nonspeaking part, as the PRI party president denounces the exit polls and demands that IFE not release its quick count at the scheduled time. He says PRI has its own statistics showing Madrazo winning and that it will respect no result until the votes are counted by hand and the official result is certified on Wednesday. This looks like a desperation move, since no one expects Madrazo to finish higher than third; he doesn't want to be counted out at 11, when presumably either López Obrador or Calderón will be indicated as the winner or that it will be indicated that one of the two will be the winner. Madrazo looked weak on camera, trying his best to smile at times; the picture of a candidate standing mute is not an image of strength.
8:35 p.m. Televisa says that Consulta Mitofsky has projected the result of the congressional elections as follows: PAN 35 percent, PRD (and two other parties) 31 percent, PRI (and Greens) 28 percent, Nueva Alianza 5 percent (enough to make it an official party), and Alternativa 1 percent. This is good news for PAN, which previously was the second-largest party in Congress, and bad news for PRI, which was the largest party in Congressand indeed the majority party from 1929 to 1997. Since it is generally expected that López Obrador will run ahead of his party and Calderón not much ahead of his, this again suggests a very close election.
8:45 p.m. The IFE website has election results for some 340,000 votesout of more than 40 million expected. It shows Calderón with 41 percent, López Obrador 33 percent. Calderón is running 4 to 5 percent ahead of PAN candidates for Congress (depending on whether you look at the Senate or Chamber of Deputies); López Obrador is running 5 to 6 percent ahead of PRD candidates for Congress. Presumably these returns are from disproportionately PAN areas (or else the exit poll showing it too close to call is way off, which is exceedingly unlikely). On the other hand, if you apply the differences between the candidates' percentages in these raw vote totals with their parties' expected percentages in the Congress elections, you come up with a rule-of-thumb result of Calderón 39 to 40 percent, López Obrador 36 to 37 percent. That would be consistent with a too-close-to-call exit poll. But this is just speculation.
8:55 p.m. The campaign coordinator for the PRD is claiming that the Covarrubias exit poll shows a plurality for López Obrador. With 602,000 votes in from 2 percent of actas (precincts), the IFE raw vote count shows Calderón 41 percent, López Obrador 33, Madrazo 19. Again, this is almost surely disproportionately from PAN areas. Televisa reports that PRI is in a meeting asking IFE not to give any results, primarily the quick count scheduled for 11 p.m. These raw votes presumably don't include much from the rural areas where PRI is expected to be strongest. But they do suggest that Madrazo may be hard put to reach the 27 percent he was getting in the pre-June 20 polls.
9:05 p.m. Another exercise. The 2 percent raw vote shows PAN's congressional vote 2 percentage points above the Consulta Mitofsky exit poll estimate, PRD's congressional vote 4 below it, and PRI's congressional vote about even. Applying those differentials to the raw vote percentages, we come up with Calderón 39, López Obrador 37, and Madrazo an embarrassing 19. TV Azteca (the No. 2 network in viewership) shows the same estimate of the final congressional vote as Televisa Consulta Mitofsky, except it has the Nueva Alianza at 4 percent and Alternativa at 2 percent; the three major parties are the same: PAN 35, PRD 31, PRI 28.
9:10 p.m. Marcelo Ebrard (PRD) is projected by TV Azteca as the winner in the race for mayor of Mexico City, with 52 to 28 percent for Demetrio Sodi (PAN). This is in line with pre-election polls. Ebrard was part of López Obrador's regime during his five years as mayor of Mexico City and is very likely to carry on his municipal policies. He could establish himself, as López Obrador did, as a serious candidate for president in 2012 (Mexico does not allow re-election). There are four elections for governor, with only one expected to be close, in Jalisco, the fourth-largest state; its largest city is Guadalajara. TV Azteca projects PAN's Emilio Gonzalez as the winner over PRI's Arturo Zamora, by a 46 to 41 percent margin. That indicates the exit pollster is willing to project in a race with a 5 percent margin; so don't expect the presidential election to be decided by that margin.
9:15 p.m. The PAN candidate is projected as the winner for governor in Guanajuato, with 64 percent of the vote. Guanajuato is the home of President Vicente Fox; he was elected governor there in 1994, and that state north of Mexico City, with a large and vibrant private sector, is heavily pro-PAN. In Morelos, a small state just outside Mexico City that includes Cuernavaca, the PAN candidates is projected as the winner over the PRD by a 38 to 32 percent margin. This despite the corruption scandals involving the current PAN governor. The TV Azteca analysts (a good lot more centrist than those on Televisa) note that PRI's and PRD's alliances with smaller parties are not helping them much. My sense is that PAN, which ran second for Congress in 2000 and lost ground in Congress and other elections in 2003 and (in governor races) later years, is showing considerable strength: a good sign, perhaps, for Calderón.
9:18 p.m. Take that back about Televisa: It just announced it's putting on Enrique Krauze, the eminent historian and intellectual, who is no fan of López Obrador. Televisa is announcing that IFE has 80 percent of its 7,600 quick count sample, half an hour earlier than expected.
9:22 p.m. Enrique Krauze is taking the long view: He is saying that this is the second clean election and that if we get through this we will have a whole century of clean elections ahead of us. He notes that we are going to have a very divided Congress and that the next president will have the same problems with Congress that Fox has had. It's going to be very difficult to pass any laws, but it will be better than the past. He praises López Obrador's last speech, in which he used the word "concord," a very important word in democracy. Whoever wins, he will have to use concord, given the division of powers. We need to watch carefully what Congress and the executive does. Krauze's interlocutor notes that Consulta Mitofsky projects Ebrard (PRD) over Sodi (PAN) in Mexico City by 51 to 26 percent. That's similar to TV Azteca's 52 to 28 percentwho cares about a point or two when the margin is so large? Krauze says PRD in Mexico City has to be generous with the losers. Televisa has similar PAN margins to TV Azteca's in Guanajato and Jalisco. Krauze notes that the Cristeros used to be numerous in the PAN "bastion" of Guanajuatothe Cristeros were Catholics who were fought against and killed in large numbers by the PRI's founding revolutionary generals in the 1920s. History reverberates today. Krauze signs off by touching his inked thumb with the interviewer's. They're both celebrating Mexico's free, open, and clean elections. Thirty years ago Jose López Portillo was elected president with 100 percent of the vote; in 1988, Carlos Salinas won by a 49 to 37 percent margin, which many people think included many stolen votes. Those days are gone.
9:35 p.m. Ten minutes ago, IFE posted an update, with 2.85 million raw votes from 7 percent of precincts. It shows Calderón 40, López Obrador 35, Madrazo 19. PAN continues to lead in the races for Congress (an average of 37 percent) over PRD (28) and PRI (26). It looks like PRI will be only the third-largest party in Congressa humiliating result. But one should note that PRI holds governorships in states with (as memory serves) 55 percent of Mexico's population. State elections matter in Mexico, and governors can make a significant difference. PRI has remained an alternative to PAN in the north and to PRD in the south; it still benefits in governor elections from the fact that, until this year at least, it has been the one party with competitive strength all over the country. PAN has been very weak in the south, PRD in the north. But tonight's results may change that.
9:45 p.m. PRI wants to stop the quick count being announced at 11 p.m.; PAN wants to make sure it is announced. Leaders of both are talking to the president of IFE, who has a tough job tonight.
9:46 p.m. Looking at the above raw vote totals and the difference between the congressional raw vote and the exit polls' projected votes, if you adjust the presidential candidates' totals accordingly, you have a 38 to 38 percent tie between Calderón and López Obrador, with Madrazo at a humiliating 21. It looks like a long night ahead.
9:50 p.m. PRD is calling for its supporters to go to the Zocalo at 11 for a victory party.
9:58 p.m. Televisa is showing video of the process at the polls. When a Mexican voter enters the polls, his voter ID cardwith its picture and signature and hologramis checked by one official with the list, which shows a replica of each registered voter's card. Then the card is checked and held by another official who hands the voter his paper ballots (different ballots for each office). Then after the ballot is deposited, the card is checked again and handed back by a third official, and the voter's thumb is stamped with indelible ink. This is a much more rigorous process than in most of the United Statesand would presumably outrage those Democrats who take the preposterous position that demanding a picture ID from a voter is a violation of civil rights. I have more confidence in Mexico's election procedures than I do in those in much of the United States.
10 p.m. The Televisa reporter at PRI headquarters on Insurgentes Centro reports that PRI is planning no celebration. Things look pretty quiet there.
10:05 p.m. I can hear the helicopters hovering over the Paseo de la Reforma, watching what is going on. López Obrador is at the Marquis Reforma Hotel across the street, and PAN's victory celebration is set for the circle containing the Angel of Independence several blocks away, where Vicente Fox held a victory rally exactly six years ago to the day. Unfortunately, the Angel is under repair and is under a tarpaulin.
10:08 p.m. IFE raw vote figures as of 9:59, with 6,080,000 votes in and 15 percent of precincts reporting: Calderón 39, López Obrador 35, Madrazo 19. The congressional raw vote is PAN 36, PRD 39, PRI 26. Adjusting the presidential candidates' percentages, as I have before, by using the differences between raw vote percentages and exit poll projected percentages, I come up with Calderón 38, López Obrador 38, Madrazo 21. Of course, these numbers could be off, if the projected percentages are off by a point or two, as they easily could be. The exit pollsters evidently felt confident releasing these numbers because they clearly showed PAN in first place. PAN has declared that it is the winner but didn't say on what basis. This seems premature to me. I certainly would like to see Calderón win.
10:52 p.m. Televisa is announcing that one minute before 11, IFE will present an envelope to each of three major parties and all members of the IFE committee with the quick count totals, with the decision of the statisticians as to whether the result should be announced. They are walking on untrodded ground. A PRI spokesman on TV now is claiming victory for López Obrador in Estado de Mexico, the largest state in the country.
10:55 p.m. One announcer on Televisa is saying they are going to announce a winner. Another says no, IFE does not have a statistically significant samplethat is, the margin in the quick count is so small that there is a statistically significant probability that it points to the wrong winner. One announcer, who usually takes the left line, says that Calderón has a lead. But does he really know?
11 p.m. Luis Carlos Ugalde, the president of IFE, is on the television now, in an official IFE broadcast segment. The election between the first and second candidates is too close to call. This has been determined by independent scientific statisticians. The official counting will start on July 5. There is no winner: They have to count every vote. He asks the parties to be responsible and the candidates to respect the decision of the majority. The celebration parties should stop, and the candidates and their supporters should wait for the results. The margin between the first and second candidates is so small that they cannot declare who has won.
11:07 p.m. Vicente Fox on TV. He says the president of IFE says there are no conditions to declare a winner of the presidential election. First a shot with bookshelves and Mexican flag, then close head shot of Fox. He says that impartial observers should determine the result, that IFE deserves respect from all Mexicans, with its professionalism and guarantee of impartiality, that the candidates should preserve tranquillity and respect for the impartiality and transparency of the electoral process and IFE. I don't have the whole transcript, of course, but it was an impressive and commanding performance.
Six years ago, at just about this hour, President Ernest Zedillo came on television and, after 71 years of PRI governance, announced that he recognized that Fox was the next president of Mexico. He recognized the transfer of power from one party to another. Tonight, Fox ratified the decision of Luis Carlos Ugalde not to declare the election decided and called on all the candidates to respect the electoral process. This was, in my view, as historic and inspiring a move as Zedillo's six years ago. He took command and demanded everyone respect the process. Would that someone had been able to take and had taken command in the United States in November 2000.
11:16 p.m. Televisa is reporting that at PRD headquarters they didn't have Ugalde's statement on their TV. But at PAN they head the whole message.
López Obrador is on TV now. He says he respects the institutions and IFE. However, he says, according to his data, he won. He says he has information about at least 500,000 more votes. He looked ashen-faced and not quite in command; there was some tension between his declaration that he was the winner by 500,000 votes and that he would respect the results. He spoke many conciliatory words, but he didn't foreclose the possibility of complaining that the election was stolen.
11:25 p.m. PRI headquarters: people milling around and looking totally dejected.
11:26 p.m. A crowd is cheering, knowing that López Obrador is comingbut surely not as much as they would be if they had known he was declared the winner.
11:26 p.m. Calderón at PAN headquarters. Sounds forceful. According to many different polls, he says, he's the winner. But he says he'll wait for the data to be processed by IFE. He congratulates the new PAN governors. When declared the elected president, he says, he will try to make peace with the other parties.
My interpretation and guess: The IFE quick count showed Calderón ahead but by a very small margin. Calderón cited exit polls (which of course could be wrong); López Obrador cited his party's own count (which, like most partisan counts, is more dubious than those from independent organizations).
11:40 p.m. Televisa reports that PRI says it's the only party that respected IFE's request that they not talk. This is pathetic. Everyone knows Madrazo finished a bad third and is not in contention. Thirty years ago, PRI won 100 percent; now it's down to about 20 percent.
11:44 p.m. The PRI president is on now, with Madrazo smiling wanly beside him. He says he doesn't want to support virtual victories. It's the PRI suggesting massive election fraudas my onetime boss Meg Greenfield might have said, that's a double oy vay. Now he says, we accept the cleanness of the election, and PRI is the most important factor of stability in this country.
11:46 p.m. López Obrador in the Zocalo. He says he regrets that IFE is trying to grab votes from him. He's suggesting that "they" are stealing the election. Much more emphatic than in his previous television appearance, he says his main support is the poor people.
11:50 p.m. Calderón on TV again, saying the same thing. Looking at their demeanors, my sense is that López Obrador thinks he's probably lost and Calderón thinks he's probably wonbut probably neither is sure.
11:59 p.m. It sounds like Televisa is ending their coverage. I guess justifiably sowhat more could happen tonight? TV Azteca seems to have already ended its election coverage. Televisa is now doing what looks like summing up. Announcer says PRI is going to have the role of legitimizing the election tomorrowbecause it has to recognize that it's in third place. Or because it's going to negotiate concessions from the next government. Given its bad showing, insider dealing is the only way to keep it in the federal politics game (as I said above, it's still a major factor in state politics).
12:01 a.m. The latest IFE raw vote figures, as of 11:40 (there was too much action on TV to update before this), with 43 percent of the precincts in and 17.5 million votes. Calderón 38, López Obrador 36, Madrazo 19. Congressional (average): PAN 35, PRD 29, PRI 26.
This is one of the most astonishing and electrifying election nights I have ever witnessed. In a country that didn't have seriously contested elections from 1929 to 1994, we have just witnessed the culminationor the beginning of the culminationof one of the most closely and seriously contested elections in the history of major democratic nations in all time. Nobody I have encountered in covering this election had any serious confidence in predicting which candidate would win. And, it turns out, for good reason. This wasisvery, very close. You can infer from López Obrador's and Calderón's statements between 11 and midnight that López Obrador thought he probably lost and Calderón thought he probably won. But probably. Given the close count, neither could be sure. López Obrador was craftier, laying a predicate for claiming that the election was stolen. But his evidence was not overwhelming, and the seriousness of Ugalde, who is not a political appointee, cuts the other way. López Obrador, characteristically, claimed the high moral ground as the advocate of the poorbut felt obliged to acknowledge that he recognizes the legitimate interests of all elements of society. He does not feel free to paint himself as another Hugo Chávez.
I cannot be sure what negotiating and behind-the-scenes discussions have been going on in Mexico City over the past couple of days, but you can be sure there were many. The polling numbers up to June 20and the fact, easily ascertainable by insiders, that subsequent polling found little changeindicated that the election could easily be a dead heat. The question then is whether the loser would acknowledge the legitimacy of his defeat. Always it was likelier that Calderón would do so than López Obrador. The broadcasts of Ugalde and Fox after 11 were clearly choreographed, presumably after extensive discussions and debates on election night, probably running up to the minute of their taping. There are many aspects of the IFE regulatory scheme that I, as an American cherishing the First Amendment, find offputting. Banning campaigning several days before the election (which many European countries as well as Mexico do), banning publication of polls conducted more than 12 days before the election, banning foreign networks from making such references (which prompted Fox News, which has provided little reporting from Mexico, from transmitting its feed into the country from last Thursday to Sunday night): All these stick in my craw. But different countries have different ways of conducting democracy. Germany bans Nazi propaganda; it would be protected in the United States by the First Amendment, but we can understand why the Germans might take a different course. Mexico, with its history of electoral manipulation, bans certain political reporting. But we might do the same, for good reason, if we were in their shoes. History has its claims.
In any case, Mexico has a better system guarding against election fraud today than we have in most of the United States. Its voter ID program is much more rigorous. It has paper ballots, which take more time to count, but which also provide a paper trail for recounts. It has a national superintending electoral administrative agency, which our federal system of holding elections would not permit. All this is the legacy of PRI Presidents Carlos Salinas and Ernesto Zedillo, who calculated that Mexico could not take its place among advanced nations without a transparent and fair electoral system. They deserve great credit for the peaceful transfer of power from one party to another in Mexico in 2000, and for what appears likely to be the resolution of an extremely close fair election in 2006. Salinas voted quietly this year in Tlalpan and Zedillo in Pedgregal, rich neighborhoods on the south side of Mexico City, relatively unnoticed. But they are the worthy architects of this system, which is deserving of respect.
12:55 a.m. The IFE update as of 12:45 on raw votes: Calderón 38, López Obrador 36, Madrazo 20. Congressional: PAN 35, PRD 30, PRI 26. The congressional vote is increasingly in line with the exit poll projections (PAN 35, PRD 31, PRI 28).
American politics has been poisoned over the past six years because many Democrats have believed that the Republicans stole the 2000 election for George W. Bush. Mexico faces the risk that many PRDistas will believe that PANistas stole the 2006 election for Felipe Calderón. This is a downside risk for democratic states in part because aficionados of left parties are more inclined than their opponents to believe, when they have been declared the losers, that they really won. They believe that they occupy the moral high ground as defenders of the poor (López Obrador surely has a better claim on that title than America's Democrats) and because they are more open to the idea that powerful conspirators have manipulated the process (as opposed to Milwaukee Democrats taking advantage of Election Day-registration laws by importing Chicago blacks to vote in marginal Wisconsin).
We Americans should await the unfolding of IFE's vote count. It will be significantly more reliable, I think, than the vote count in many American jurisdictions, and more worthy of respect. Particularly because Mexicans of various political persuasions have been working manfully (to adopt Harvey Mansfield's vocabulary) over the last dozen or more years to produce a fair and transparent election process. A López Obrador victory will produce much trouble for the United States, although exactly how much trouble is uncertain; he would probably be less like Venezuela's Hugo Chávez than like Brazil's Lula da Silva. Moreover, a Calderón government would not be an unalloyed blessing for the United States; we have had our serious disagreements with Vicente Fox's government, and a Calderón government would not be much different. On the contrary, if he wins by a narrow and (however vociferously) disputed margin, his government might be more adversarial. If you believe, as I do, that López Obrador's economic policies would forestall the growth and modernization of Mexico's economy, which is so closely linked to ours through NAFTA, then you should hope, as I do, that the IFE process produces a Calderón victory. But you should not bank too much on it. If, as I think possible, the United States dodged a bullet because López Obrador lost crucial votes in the Mexico City metro area by a rainstorm an hour before the closing of the polls on July 2, then rejoice in that lucky chance and thank whatever god you think is responsiblekeeping in mind that the Aztec gods might still not be entirely out of commission in the Valley of Mexico. But remember also that no Mexican government can be our lockstep ally, and that even as we work to fortify our border and enforce our immigration laws, we must also think how we can work in intelligent ways to strengthen the government in our neighboring Mexico with 100 million people to our 300 millionwhether it is led by a relatively friendly Felipe Calderón orless likely it seems as I am writing than it was six or seven hours agoa rhetorically unfriendly and politically wily Andres Manuel López Obrador.