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In Election, Mexicans Faced a Dichotomy

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For more on the electoral stalemate in Mexico we turn to Sergio Aguayo. He's a professor at the College of Mexico and a political and social analyst for the Reformer newspaper. Professor Aguayo, thanks so much for being with us.

Dr. SERGIO AGUAYO (College of Mexico): The pleasure is mine.

NORRIS: What does this election say about the state of democracy in Mexico?

Dr. AGUAYO: Oh, it says so many things. First, that we have the capacity to organize relatively free and relatively fair elections. Now, this is perhaps the toughest test so far because there is one point separating Mr. Calderon, from the Conservative National Election Party, and Mr. Lopez Obrador, from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution.

And what we are going to see in the near future is more challenges to our electoral system because Mr. Lopez Obrador is going to search for evidence that perhaps some of those votes for the conservative right were not achieved in the right way and they will have a number of legal challenges that will be surrounded by media and political infighting among the two different parties. And so, in short, the country will be divided for the next few weeks.

NORRIS: One of Mexico's greatest advances has been to clean up its electoral system. If this indeed was a test of this new system to move away from a one-party system and this election was indeed largely free and transparent, it's interesting because at this point we still have two candidates and no clear winner.

Dr. AGUAYO: Yes, but what happens is that this election had no precedent in Mexico because, in the past, in our political system, there was something called the ideology of the Mexican revolution that prevented us from a clearly identified left and right. So this is the first time that we have a clearly identified election with a left and right.

Second, this is the first election that is so close, therefore there is going to be simultaneously an ideological fight and also a political and legal challenge and we don't know if the electoral system is going to sustain the attacks on it. I hope it does because otherwise we will have a period of instability and uncertainty over us.

NORRIS: You've got a close election, very big turnout and an electorate that's greatly polarized, greatly divided, so how might this impact Mexican society in the long run?

Dr. AGUAYO: That is a very good question and nobody, I think, has a clear answer because, of course, we do believe in democracy. We want democracy, but democracy has also its complexities and it can be very brutal and this time, we also saw how negative campaigning, imported from the U.S., tainted the ambiance and polarized us because all of a sudden, the conservative right started to use negative campaigning to destroy the reputation of Mr. Lopez Obrador and, of course, he and his party reacted in the same way and we had a very nasty campaign in which all sorts of attacks come from one against the other.

And this can polarize society if the candidates, media and the government does not handle in a proper, civilized way, in order not to let the country to become a social conflict.

NORRIS: Is it realistic to expect that this will be resolved in just a few weeks, or might it take longer?

Dr. AGUAYO: I think it will take a few weeks, because on Wednesday, the electoral authority is going to scrutinize each one of the polling booths and gradually there will be results legitimized, legalized by the electoral authority. But, simultaneously, the political parties are going to scrutinize the ambience of the election, how the election took place.

It will take weeks before the electoral authority and the electoral tribunal come out with a conclusion and in that period, we will have to look closely at the kind of democracy we want. Because I personally was shocked but the nastiness of the negative campaigning.

NORRIS: Sergio Aguayo is a professor at the College of Mexico. He's an analyst for the Reformer newspaper. Professor Aguayo, thanks so much.

Dr. AGUAYO: Thanks to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.