Monday, August 28, 2006
Deadline Approaches for Mexico’s Electoral Court
By Allan Wall
If there’s a contested election who has the
final say? In the 2000 United States election the U.S. Supreme Court had the
final word. Needless to say, everybody wasn’t happy about it.
But somebody has to have the final say.
It’s now 2006 and Mexico has a hotly contested
The first question is, “Was the election
legitimate?” If the answer to that question is “yes,” then
the next question is, “Who is the winner?” Is the winner Felipe Calderon
of the PAN (National Action Party) or Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, AMLO, of the PRD (Party of the Democratic Revolution)?
Mexico’s electoral tribunal has the final
say, and the day it must rule on the election is rapidly approaching.
This special tribunal was specially designed to resolve
disputed elections. It is the final authority on elections in Mexico. The electoral
court is known by several names. In the Mexican media it is frequently referred to by Spanish acronyms, being called the TRIFE
(Federal Electoral Tribunal), as well as the TEPJF (Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary Power).
The tribunal has only existed since 1996, when it
was first established. It has seven members.
Given its special function, the court was formed
by an elaborate selection process. There were hundreds of applicants for membership
on the court, and out of the hundreds the list was whittled down to the final seven members.
The goal was to have a court composed of judges with no political affiliation.
Who selected the TRIFE judges?
The Mexican Supreme Court had its say in selecting
the judges. The three major political parties (the Institutional Revolutionary
Party, PRI; National Action Party, PAN; and Party of the Democratic Revolution, PRD) had to approve the membership. And the
Mexican Congress unanimously approved the composition of the electoral tribunal.
The TRIFE’s members are Leonel Castillo, Eloy
Fuentes, Jose Alejandro Luna, J. Fernando Ojesto Martinez, J. Jesús Orozco, Mauro Miguel Reyes, and Alfonsina Berta Navarro
(the only woman). One of the original judges, Jose Luis de la Peza, died during
his term and was replaced by Jose Alejandro Luna.
Each TRIFE judge receives a salary of US$415,000
a year, making them the highest paid public officials in Mexico. The purpose of the high salary is to reduce the chance of
members being bribed.
The TRIFE was designed to resolve electoral disputes,
and that’s what it’s been doing the past decade. In fact, they have
ruled on 20,000 electoral disputes in Mexico.
The court has annulled 17 elections, and has
ruled against all three major parties. The TRIFE removed a PRI-dominated electoral
board in Yucatan state, and annulled the election of a PAN congressman (for using an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in campaign
literature.) The tribunal’s most famous ruling was on a gubernatorial election
in Tabasco state won by the PRI. The court annulled the election and a new election was held.
In Mexico’s contentious post-election atmosphere,
the TRIFE has the final say. Even the Mexican Supreme Court is sitting this one out, according to the Supreme Court President
(Chief Justice) Mariano Azuela and other justices. It’s all up to the electoral tribunal.
And fittingly, the non-renewable terms of all the
judges (with the exception of Luna) end in October. That means that their greatest
decision is to come at the end of their TRIFE careers.
Several seasoned Mexico watchers have given the tribunal high
marks. Todd A. Eisenstadt, an American University Professor and author, admires
the court’s consistency, and says its magistrates have constructed “a very strong canon of electoral law on what
used to be a quagmire of fraud.”
George Grayson, of the College of William and
Mary, plays up the judges’ credentials and says, “They have stepped on everybody’s toes in delivering more
than 20,000 decisions. I think they will deliver a deliberate, fair and impartial judgment.”
That’s what Mexico is hoping for –
and time is running out. The TRIFE is required to resolve the issue by August 31st. If the court rules that the election is
valid, it has until September 6th to declare the winner.
What will Mexico’s electoral tribunal
have to say on that day? All of Mexico is waiting.
Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently
returned from a tour of duty in Iraq. He currently resides in Mexico, where he
has lived since 1991. He can be reached
via e-mail at email@example.com.