What happened in the 2006 presidential race and how did it strengthen Mexican political institutions?
As the 2006 presidential election approached, each of the three main parties nominated their presidential candidates. The leading candidate at the beginning of the race was Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the former president backed by the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PDR) who resigned his position as governor of the Federal District. He was the most widely recognized of the candidates and had developed a loyal following in the capital and the state of Mexico. The National Action Party (PAN), the incumbent party, nominated a dark horse candidate, Felipe Calderon, after an intensive primary election. Calderon had served as his party's president and in Fox's cabinet. Finally, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which hoped to make a comeback after losing the presidency in 2000, nominated Roberto Madrazo, the former governor of Tabasco and president of the PRI. As the campaign proceeded, Madrazo began to lose ground, and it became apparent toward the end of the race that the contest would be between the PAN and PRD candidates.
When the votes were counted, they revealed that Calderon had come from behind Lopez Obrador, winning the election with a bare 0.6 percent of the vote, in the closest presidential election since 1929. Equally important, Calderon won only 36 percent of the vote, the smallest plurality of any presidential winner since 1910.
Lopez Obrador immediately claimed fraud. He made a formal appeal to the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judiciary, the only institution with the legal responsibility for adjudicating disputed electoral results, and the court examined about 10 percent of the ballots. During an extensive investigation, described in a lengthy report, they found no evidence of fraud, but did identify and nullify a number of ballots for both candidates, which did not alter the outcome. Lopez Obrador refused to accept the court's judgment, declaring himself president and encouraging his partisan supporters to boycott the government. Within a few months, despite his intensive efforts to delegitimize the government and the election itself, all but a small minority of core partisans declared their agreement with the court's decisions and their satisfaction that both the court and the Federal Electoral Institute that conducted the election were legitimate institutions. These results, despite the intense controversy, suggest there was support for the culture of law and for democratic institutions, which contributed to the consolidation of Mexico's democracy.