Thursday, August 24, 2006

When is an election "legitimate"? Mexican Election #21

In an article today in the Washington Post Fred Rosen a columnist for El Universal, one of Mexico City's larger papers, commented "Will a less-than-legitimate Calderón presidential term be marked by an on-going disruption of civic and economic activity?"

The quote raises a fundamental question in logic. When the standard for an election is a majority and a candidate achieves that is the election result less legitimate because of a closer percentage? Obviously, a close election suggests a smaller or more narrow mandate for the winner. But does the smaller percentage make the election less legitimate?

Think about this for a moment. In one party states the election percentage is 100%, are those elections are more legitimate than an electoral victory in a pluralist society where the winner gains barely a majority or a plurality among many candidates? Of course not.

Outside observers have consistently commented that the Mexican election followed the highest international standards. One would think with that record, the election was legitimate. The problem facing Calderon is not legitimacy but mandate. In close elections, the winner needs to think about building support from supporters of the defeated candidate by reaching out in areas like positions in the cabinet and in other demonstrations of attempting to rule from the center. Calderon seems to have attempted that kind of coalition building in many ways - by speaking with many senior PRD officials and others who had supported Lopez Obrador - that may build his mandate a bit, over time, but it will not change the legitimacy of his election.

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