They also said attack ads targeting Lopez Obrador were illegal, while pointing out, however, that the leftist candidate used similar tactics in his campaign spots.
But according to the seven-judge court, none of the irregularities were significant enough to have changed the outcome of the election, despite the extremely narrow margin.
The unappealable ruling handed down by the electoral court, which in its 10 years of existence has never been accused of bias, details each of the irregularities that were found, but says that their impact was not strong enough to justify annulling the elections.
Far from putting an end to the controversy, the resolution was received with indignation by many Mexicans, who believe a vote-by-vote recount should have been carried out to dispel doubts.
The irregularities were recognized but downplayed by the judges, who thus made it clear that "illegalities are good business," according to Reforma columnist Miguel Granados.
In the view of the left, the court validated fraudulent elections. Ricardo Monreal, a lawmaker with Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), went so far as to state that the magistrates were bribed to rule in Calderon's favour -- an allegation for which he presented no proof, however.
But lawyer Jorge Bernal, a professor of constitutional law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and an adviser to the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), said that above and beyond the political complaint, "which is understandable coming from those who were defeated, I believe the judges' conclusion was correct."
Fraud was not legally proven, he told IPS. Nor was it demonstrated, "with the available legal instruments," that the interference by the president and business groups played a decisive role, he added.
According to historian Lorenzo Meyer, a respected academic at the Colegio de Mexico, the judges' controversial decision "attempted to stick to the letter of the law," but ended up going against its spirit of guaranteeing impartial, equitable elections.
The country's institutions "turned out to be incapable of guaranteeing what any well-functioning democracy requires: a fair fight," said Meyer.
With no other legal means available to them to challenge the results of the elections, Lopez Obrador's supporters, many of whom have been camping out along a central Mexico City boulevard and square for over a month to demand a recount of the vote, are getting ready to name a parallel government headed by their candidate, in a "people's assembly" scheduled for Sep. 16.
There is a widespread sensation that moments of even greater tension lie ahead, which could possibly give rise to violence.
"Like in the case of most legal rulings, the loser is not satisfied, and that's only logical. But there is little doubt that the electoral court issued a resolution in line with the country's jurisprudence and laws," Jorge Gaxiola, a jurist who teaches electoral law in several Mexican universities, told IPS.
Under Mexican law, an election can only be annulled if widespread, serious fraud has been objectively proven.
In the last 10 years, the electoral court has annulled the results of 33 local elections, including two for provincial governors and the rest at the municipal level. On those occasions, the authorities found clear evidence of phenomena like the hauling of voters, voter deception and intimidation.
In the 21,703 trials in which the electoral judges have handed down decisions since 1996, all of the parties have benefited or been hurt at some point, and none have challenged the rulings.
Prior to the elections, Lopez Obrador stated on several occasions that he had full confidence in the judges.
The legal precedents set by the electoral court indicate that no elections in Mexico have been completely clean or free of undue interference.
The leftist coalition made up of the PRD and the smaller Convergencia and Trabajo parties insists that meddling by Fox and by business groups in the campaign was sufficient to prove that the elections were not fair.
They also say that argument was strengthened by the discrepancies detected in the vote tally -- which the court attributed to unintentional "human error" in its partial recount of ballots, adding that it found no overwhelming evidence of fraud -- and by the alleged use of government social programs in favour of the ruling party candidate.
But Gaxiola underlined that although all of these irregularities were acknowledged by the court, they were not found to be widespread or decisive in the elections.
The professor also pointed out that IFE and the Supreme Court ordered Fox, weeks before the elections, to put a stop to illegal government campaign propaganda in the media, and to avoid subtle references to the left-wing candidate. Companies that had placed ads attacking Lopez Obrador were also ordered to yank them.
Bernal, the citizen adviser to IFE, noted that many of the legal challenges brought by the leftist coalition were not properly drawn up or had no basis.
The left acknowledged that it had difficulties in presenting its claims and evidence, but asserted that in its general arguments before the electoral court, the irregularities were clearly revealed, and the judges should have annulled the elections as a result.
The court rejected the allegation that Lopez Obrador received unfair treatment by the media, and that the Fox administration manipulated government social programs to benefit Calderon.
The judges based their decision on IFE's monitoring of the media, which had been approved by all of the political parties.
According to the monitoring, the leftist candidate received the most coverage in the media (24.2 percent of the total) during the campaign, and was referred to in a "neutral" manner by 96 percent of the media reports.
The PRD also broadcast the greatest number of radio and TV spots.
With regard to the alleged misuse of government social programs, the electoral court found that in more than half of the municipalities where local residents benefit from the aid plans, Lopez Obrador triumphed, while the winner in the country's 15 poorest municipalities was Roberto Madrazo, the candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled the country from 1929 to 2000, but came in third in the July elections.
With respect to the negative campaign ads against the left, the judges argued that the leftist coalition failed to provide conclusive evidence as to how they affected the final result. It also noted that IFE had studied and banned several ads.
Many of the PRD's legal challenges arguing that discrepancies were found in the tally in specific voting stations were also dismissed. A number of them did not carry the signature of the person filing the challenge, and some even mentioned voting stations that did not exist.
The judges also found that the PRD lawyers demanded the annulment of votes through identical, repetitive documents in which only the number of the polling station was changed.
"It is reasonable that the decision left the loser feeling injured, but these are the rules of the game and must be respected," said Bernal. However, "reforms aimed at a future repeat of this situation, which arose from the closest race in Mexican history, should be adopted," he added.
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Albion Monitor September
8, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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