The 2006 Election — One Year Later

One year ago, at the end of the day, I published these thoughts to a mailing list of some 2,500 mostly American lawyers.

The longer I live here, the more Mexico seems like the U.S. I’m not sure whether the country really has adopted more Estadounidense ways, or whether it’s just become more familiar to me. The boundaries and distinctions have blurred.

Today is Election Day in Mexico. Campaigning and surveys, by law, came to a halt days before the election, and even Fox News was blacked out. Alcohol sales have been banned for the entire weekend. After watching television coverage of President Fox and his family voting this morning, I headed out to the local Italian restaurant for breakfast over the Sunday paper. Plying me with extra espresso, the owner put me into service watching the place while he ran out for eggs, the help all out voting. One of the department stores announced a late opening time, so its employees could have time to vote. It’s unusually still for a Sunday in these parts, the same kind of Twilight Zone quietness that pervades the city when an important futbol game’s in progress. Or a religious holiday. No one talks much about the election or the candidates. Maybe they’re just being polite.

A thumb blackened by indelible ink identifies those who’ve voted. I have no idea how thumb-free voters are marked. In Morelia are international observers from Portugal and France. The most common name of a voter in the entire Republic is Juan Hernandez Hernandez; in Michoacán, he would be known as Jose Garcia Garcia. Or so says the newspaper.

In Mexican presidential elections past, you always just knew who would win. Even in 2000, the front-runner was ahead by a substantial margin. Everyone just knew that Vicente Fox would be president. We knew that by the dawn following just who would govern the country for the next six years. This time, it’s just not clear.

The afternoon is as still as Good Friday, not even the local dogs barking or cars revving up their engines. Even giant bamboo is still. It’s as if everything and everyone around here is just waiting for something, but we don’t know what it is.

The winner is anyone’s guess, but I know whose face I want to see gracing every public office for the next six years.

It’s 8 p.m., and I am online, nervously checking the election results and flipping channels on the television. This is far more nerve-racking than 2000, back during Bush v. Gore, when I sang and danced and whooped and hollered upon hearing the news, only to be shocked minutes later.

The early results show Felipe Calderon ahead, and, between exchanging e-mail with friends and excitedly comparing the results on the phone, I surprise myself by cheering “Go, Felipe. Come on, Felipe.” Calderon’s going to win. For moments, I’ve become the hairy-chested guy with a beer in his hand, goading on a futbol player in the final minutes. Never mind that the votes have already been cast.

But wait. AMLO announces that he won, and then Calderon announces he won.

Suddenly the lights go off. No television. No Internet. Everything goes dark. What is going on? And minutes later, a thunderstorm of biblical proportions comes out of nowhere. I race around unplugging everything, grab some candles and a flashlight and wait. Sometimes the power outages are over in fifteen minutes. The Nearly Perfect Doberman races outdoors, only long enough to grab something that resembles a dead animal and takes off flying upstairs to the bedroom. Chalking it all up to paranoia and thinking he probably only grabbed one of his stuffed animals, I go on up. And I see the glistening eyes of something on the floor. Having no idea whether it’s a rodent or a opossum, I grab a bath towel, cover it, and toss it out the balcony. (It revealed itself to be a dead bird the next morning.) Now, if I believed in conspiracies, and if I didn’t know that this was nothing more than a typical Michoacán summer storm, I would swear sinister forces were at work.

And like that November morning in 2000, I will awaken not knowing who has won. Nothing is official yet, and the Federal Elections Institute has declared that it’ll wait until Wednesday.

A year has now passed since the election.

That Sunday evening, one which I’ll remember for the rest of my life, suddenly Calderon’s shoes began to fit. And as the days of suspense wore on, he became more and more presidential, filling the part and wearing the clothes. He stood up just a little straighter, he became more dynamic, and he exuded the charisma that just hadn’t been there before. I could swear that he’s grown taller. Like a flower rising out of a desperate weed patch, he bloomed, toughened by the battle. During the Sunday evening and the two months that would follow before he would be definitively declared the winner, he did more to inspire leadership than all of the campaign promises of any candidate for any office. And he made a difference.

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