The role of electoral observation in the defense of the 2018 vote

By  |  17 / July / 2018

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When the idea of ​​organizing an international electoral observation mission to monitor the largest elections in Mexico’s history began in early 2018, there were many reasons to expect the worst. The country has a long documented experience of frauds that have changed the course of its history. They contributed substantially to the current situation–a government and a party system that lack the trust of the majority of the population, an economic model that generates inequality and poverty, and a security policy that has unleashed rampant violence. The future of the nation would be in the balance of these elections, from the perspective of an unbearable present.

For the elites in power – big businessmen, the traditional parties of the PRI and PAN and their respective parasitic parties – the objective has always been to stay in power. In the 2018 presidential elections, Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s candidacy began to rise quickly, buoyed by his message against “the mafia in power” and corruption, and his proposal to fight poverty not through trickle down, but through social programs. As AMLO’s support grew, polarization deepened and a smear campaign against him was launched from the highest levels of power to social networks.

A free and fair vote was at risk at a critical time for the country. In this context, the network of Scholars and Citizens for Democracy in Mexico was created. Its founding document states: “Out of concern for the precarious state of democracy in Mexico and the low credibility of the country´s electoral institutions, an international group of scholars, journalists, activists and artists have decided to create an international Network of Scholars and Citizens for Democracy in Mexico.”The new network had three objectives:

  • Mobilization of a vast network of international citizen electoral observers
  • Publicly denounce and file formal complaints to the Mexican electoral authorities, to international bodies, and in the national and international press of irregularities committed during the electoral process
  • Organize and articulate citizen initiatives

At the beginning, we little idea of the dimensions of the task we’d taken on. Hundreds of people from all over the world answered the call to defend the vote and join the non-partisan observation. The initiative to create and deploy brigades of national and international electoral observers grew from the goal of 70 national observers and 30 “foreign visitors” – all duly registered with the National Electoral Institute (INE, by its Spanish initials) – to 200 nationals and 100 international observers. The Network’s electoral observation mission became the largest in the country, surpassing in number of participants and coverage the mission of the Organization of American States.   Dialogues for Democracy of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, which convened the seminar in February that led to the formation of the Network, initiated a series of training courses for national observers and created a platform for filing complaints starting from the pre-electoral stage. The Fray Francisco de Vitoria Human Rights Center coordinated the observation, supported by dozens of experts in electoral matters from organizational, legal and technical perspectives. The CIP Americas Program began the process of recruiting and deploying international observers from the United States, Europe and Latin American and the United Kingdom organized a delegation of 28 that arrived in the country in the days before the election to participate in the observation.   Members of the observer group participated in an intensive training course on June 28, and on the 29th they headed out to their routes in brigades formed of two foreign visitors and two Mexican observers. The observation centered in the states of Mexico, Morelos, Puebla and Mexico City. In total, 30 brigades were formed covering 10 polling places each. In addition, special missions were sent to the states of Tlaxcala and Veracruz. National observers linked to the Network also covered and reported from almost every state in the republic.

Voices from the elections observation 

On July 1, the observers set out in white vests with tablets, formats and pencils. The day started before 7 o’clock to document the opening of the polls, and for many it ended in the wee hours of the following day. Each brigade had a different experience, but their testimonies agree on several points. Below, their voices:

Erica Guevara, French-Costa Rican, professor of research at the University of Paris 8, member of the Political Observatory of Latin America and the Caribbean. Observer in Ecatepec, State of Mexico. 

“This morning at the polling place we observed what´s called a ‘friendly house’ just 150 meters from the poll, where we saw members of the PRI who were accompanying voters to the poll and apparently offering something in exchanging. We saw this later at another poll, where we also observed a friendly house, buying votes.”

As a member of the Political Observatory, Erica has observed several elections this year, in Costa Rica, Colombia and Paraguay and during previous years in El Salvador and Ecuador. She reflected how Mexico´s compared to the other countries she´d witnessed.

“You see things like, say, voter rosters to monitor votes, with double lists. I´ve observed irregular practices elsewhere, but here they´re much more significant and much more obvious than what you can see in other places, in other countries …  “Here what is observed a lot is that from an organizational standpoint everything seems to be very good. There are all the perfect materials and everything is as it seems planned, but in practice there are many ways of deviating from the norm. This is what most strikes me here. ”  In Ecatepec, the observers encountered harassment from party officials and intimidating situations and documented many irregularities. One polling place was set up in the middle of a market, and police officers openly supported party operators.

Arely Hernández, Mexican, biologist at the National Polytechnic Institute, said: 

“I thought that fraud was really going to happen and that there would be violent incidents where we were in Ecatepec because I grew up in this place and I knew that these elections were going to be major and that´s why I was nervous… For the past six years, I realized there was vote buying going on, but not to such a degree as I saw in this experience.”

“We saw the fraud taking place. The most worrying thing that we came across was the friendly houses … Finally, in the counting of votes we observed that there were many people who, although they didn´t break the rules were closing in and we were worried. But in the end, nothing happened after the results came out. ”

“I would like to continue participating actively in these matters because I don´t believe that this will disappear from one day to the next just because the opposition party won over those who were buying votes. So it is important that we all continue contributing our efforts to protect our democracy. I believe that our brigades helped make these elections democratic.   In our case, there were international and national people involved and I realized that they had experience and that they supported us as nationals. Also the presence of foreigners helps to show that the eyes of the world are on the elections, and not just in Mexico. ”

Samuel Pérez Álvarez, Guatemalan, economist and general secretary of the Semilla Movement and observer in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, said that his experience in the Mexican elections was an inspiration for his political work in Guatemala

“The democratic culture, the high confidence in channeling citizen demands through politics, through the parties, is unusual in Guatemala, so the defense of the votes in Mexico and the broad participation, particularly of new generations, are signs of the importance of a consolidated democratic system as a peaceful way to resolve conflicts. ”

Aude Blenet of the CIP Americas Program, French, lawyer, visiting professor at ITAM, observer in Ecatepec: 

“We saw friendly houses, groups of people intimidating voters, it was totally shameless. We also suffered pressure and threats as observers, which worried me a lot. ”

On the other hand, for her the experience of observation offered an example of solidarity:

“It was exciting to be with all these people who came from all over the world to Mexico to help make sure Mexican people’s vote was respected. It is a sign that international solidarity is deepening in a very positive and innovative way. Forming a network of observers from below means a lot in terms of changes that are taking place in civil society on the global level.”

Jim Mahon, professor at Williams College in Massachusetts and an observer in Teotihuacán: 

“The most impressive thing was the enthusiasm and energy of all the people involved in the observation, and the participation of the youth, their spirit, wanting to assume their duty as citizens, ensuring that the elections are free and fair and that there is no fraud.”

Jim participated in Mexico´s 2006 presidential elections as an observer. “The difference from 2006 is the massive change that occurred in a population that decided not to accede to the demands of parties that wanted to seize their votes.”

Andrea Rodríguez, Argentina, student in Social Work, member of the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy:  “Mexico is a very important country for the region and we knew about the difficulties of the context in which the elections took place and the possibilities of fraud. We knew that the country was experiencing a situation of violence and political persecution and we´ve always considered it to be very important to link popular movements of our countries.”

“We were pleasantly surprised that, despite some irregularities, there was no political will to unleash violence that could nullify the election or generate massive fraud. So it was a moment of joy and relief. ”

“It´s very important because the reality is that the peoples of Latin America are joined by a common history, with a relationship of subordination in the international division of labor in this globalized world, and our histories have even marked by very similar political events. I think we need more integration to work toward better conditions as a region. “