Felipe Calderón, from the ruling centre-right
National Action Party (PAN), looks set to be the new president of
Mexico after the rechecking of returns from Sunday’s election gave him a lead of 243,000 votes over left-winger Manuel López Obrador.

That might sound a lot, but out of about 38 million
votes cast it’s a tiny percentage: the gap between the two
is 0.57 of a
percentage point. (Compare Italy’s cliffhanger earlier this year, where
Romano Prodi’s coalition led by about 105,000 votes on a similar-sized
turnout.) On the other hand, the number of votes involved is
sufficiently large that unless there are serious irregularities it
wouldn’t be worth a recount.

López Obrador claims there are irregularities and
has refused to concede defeat, demanding a manual recount. But if the
ballot has been rigged, it’s unlikely that a recount will make any
difference anyway: electoral fraud usually involves tampering with the votes themselves, not the way they’re counted.

Defenders of the theory that Latin America is
swinging to the left can point out that López Obrador has scored a
substantial swing; in 2000 his PRD managed only 16.6% of the vote,
against PAN’s 42.4%. But the outgoing administration of Vicente Fox had
been plagued by scandals and López Obrador started the campaign as a
firm favourite; his defeat is clearly a blow to the left and,
incidentally, a boost to US president George Bush.

The focus in Latin America now shifts to Brazil, where campaigning officially began yesterday for national
elections to be held on 1 October. Sitting leftist president Lula da
Silva is ahead in the polls, but three months is a long time in
politics.

Peter Fray

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