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Catholic and pro-life vote key to Mexican election outcome
BY ALEJANDRO BERMÚDEZLatin America Correspondent
MEXICO CITY — Carlos Fuentes has no doubt who
deserves credit for the outcome of Mexico’s July 2 presidential
Fuentes, arguably Mexico’s most
influential living writer, attributes the win by the more pro-life candidate,
Felipe Calderón, to the Virgin Mary.
As recently as April, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftwing former mayor of Mexico City, was leading Calderón
by 20 percentage points in opinion polls. What erased that seemingly
“Catholicism was an incredibly
important factor to push Calderón toward victory,”
leftist writer Fuentes explained July 10 in the Reforma daily newspaper. “His
victory is the victory of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of Mexico. She is
the only true reality in Mexico.
She is the only one in whom people believe.”
“The poorest Mexicans, natural voters of López, trust
mostly in the Virgin. To the extent that Calderón was able to present
himself as the Catholic candidate, he won.”
The outcome of
the closest election in Mexico’s
history — whose final result could be decided by Mexico’s courts as late as Sept. 6
— was completely unexpected earlier this year. And according to many observers,
the Catholic and pro-life vote turned the tide against López,
known in Mexico
by his initials, AMLO.
In April, all polling
organizations agreed that López, the candidate of the
leftist coalition Por el Bien de Todos (For the Good of All) was leading by 20 points
over Calderón, the candidate of outgoing President
Vicente Fox’s conservative National Action Party (PAN).
The polls also showed that Roberto
Madrazo from the Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI) that ruled Mexico
for 71 years before Fox’s victory in 2000, was
trailing in a distant third place.
But things started to change
dramatically in May, when López’ support plunged.
Since then, both candidates ran neck-and-neck in the polls.
The election itself was so close
that Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute did not issue final results until
July 6, declaring that Calderón had won the
presidency by a razor-thin 236,000 votes out of more than 40 million votes
cast. Calderon won 35.88% of the popular vote, compared to 35.31% for Lopez and
22.26% for Madrazo.
The Bishops’ Role
Lopez’ supporters blamed the
outcome on the intervention of Mexico’s
“The Catholic bishops have used
all their power and influence, all kind of tricks and traps to prevent the
victory of AMLO, a man who would guarantee a true separation between church and
state,” claimed Edgar Gonzalez Ruiz, a political commentator who has written a
book about an alleged “conservative conspiracy” that links the Catholic
hierarchy and pro-life groups in Latin America with the Bush administration.
“The narrow victory of Calderón has nothing to do with Catholic bishops and a lot
to do with bringing out the vote in a country that has traditionally a 60%
abstention from voting,” countered Norma Domínguez, a
political analyst of the non-profit organization Análisis Electoral.
Church spokesmen also dismissed
the charges of political favoritism.
“The bishops have always acted
within the boundaries of their rights and restrictions,” said Father Mario
Angel Flores, a columnist for the Archdiocese of Mexico City’s weekly newspaper
Desde la Fe. “They have insisted on two main
points: that Catholic should go out and vote, and that they should vote
according to their Catholic identity.”
In fact, a few days before the
national elections, Cardinal Norberto Rivera of Mexico City said Catholics should “resist the
temptation to stay home.”
“We must vote and give our support
to the person, the party, or the national program that is best for our country,
according to our Catholic principles and values,” he said.
But last December, Cardinal Rivera
distanced himself from Calderón’s candidacy when
asked by journalists if the National Action Party was his favorite party.
“I would rather vote for the PRI.
… At least during their years in power, the ‘morning-after pill’ was not legal
and abortion was never discussed,” responded Cardinal Rivera, in reference to
the fact that the National Action Party-controlled government legalized the use
and distribution of so-called “emergency contraception.”
Some bishops promoted guides for
Catholic voters, but such guides all stated that the Church does not favor
individual parties or candidates but is concerned instead with issues.
Among those issues are the same
ones that have figured prominently in recent political and cultural debates
north of the border — abortion, euthanasia and same-sex unions.
Lopez, 52, is a populist who
favors more spending on social programs. Legalizing abortion and same-sex
unions were part of his electoral program, although he
publicly downplayed those positions by saying he would hold referenda on the
Calderón, 43, a Harvard-educated economist
who favors free-market and free-trade policies, is a proclaimed Catholic
opposed to legalizing any form of abortion.
According to Carlos Polo,
president of the Latin American branch of the pro-life Population Research
Institute, “the Mexican bishops certainly remained neutral in terms of
political parties, but for pro-life and pro-family leaders a political option
was needed. And it was clear: López Obrador was the devil, and Calderón,
even if not bold enough, was the only alternative.”
Polo said that the abstention rate
among voters declined from 60% to 40% as a result of the political activism of
“I believe political involvement
[of pro-lifers] provided the narrow difference that has brought Calderón to the presidency,” he said.
narrow margin of victory, unlike Fox he has substantial support in both the
Senate and the Congress, where the National Action Party has become the largest
single party and will enjoy greater influence than in the previous legislature.
A pro-life congressman-elect from
the National Action Party, who spoke to the Register on condition of anonymity,
admitted that his party has been “weak to say the least” in defending moral
issues during Fox’s presidency.
“But I think this time we will see
a difference and a greater involvement,” the legislator said. “Most of my
colleagues are not familiar with life and family issues, unfortunately. But
most of them have a personal education that would make them naturally favor the
cause of life and family.”
Chavez a Loser
López has appealed Calderón’s
victory to the Federal Electoral Tribunal, which has until Aug. 23 to review
the challenge and until Sept. 6 to certify a winner.
But most analysts believe that Calderón will be confirmed as Mexico’s next president, as
international monitors said they were satisfied the balloting was fair.
On July 6, the Mexican Bishops’
Conference issued a statement noting Calderón’s
“We rejoice in the fact that, once
has taken a great step in its democratic walk,” the bishops said. “Now, society
must undertake an effort of reconciliation among the different political
statement concluded by asking Mexicans to “recognize the winner” and to “get
ready to cooperate with the new government for the good of our country.”
According to Polo, if Calderón’s victory is confirmed as expected, there will be
another loser in the region: Venezuela’s
leftist President Hugo Chavez, who is trying to build an alliance of populist
Latin American governments against the United States.
“A common feature of these populist
governments is that they are at odds with the Catholic Church and the
protection of life from its conception to its natural end,” Polo said. “It is good to know that Mexico will not play on Chavez’
is based in Lima, Peru.