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As Mexico Awaits Final Vote Result, Jews, Like Others, Watch and Wait

July 12, 2006
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Mexico’s Jewish community is keeping a low profile in the wake of contentious presidential elections, taking a wait-and-see attitude as the runner-up challenges the results by claiming electoral manipulation. In line with the community’s conservative tradition, the bulk of Mexico’s approximately 35,000 Jewish voters are believed to have cast their ballots July 2 for Felipe Calderon of the incumbent National Action Party. Others are believed to have voted for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, who finished second by a narrow margin and is challenging the results.

Of primary importance to the Jewish community is stability and the freedom to go about its business in a climate free of discrimination.

“What interests us is a continuation of the lack of anti-Semitism and racism,” said Ari Konik, an environmental and political activist in Mexico City. “A peace of mind in which we can continue working, studying.”

Results announced July 5 showed Calderon defeating Lopez Obrador by about 200,000 of some 43 million votes cast. But Mexicans are waiting to see what happens as the federal electoral tribunal reviews a challenge from Lopez Obrador, who filed a 900-page complaint alleging balloting irregularities and computer tampering.

On Saturday, more than 100,000 Lopez Obrador supporters flocked to Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo, to call for a recount. Lopez Obrador has not ruled out more street protests.

“It’s a very interesting election. There’s no doubt that it’s not over yet, and there are going to be many political consequences. But I cannot think of one that is related to the Jewish community,” political analyst Leo Zuckerman said. “The Jewish community is as divided as the rest of the Mexican electorate.”

If there was anything specially at stake for Mexican Jews, it was the “liberty that we have had in Mexico,” Konik said. “The people voted for whomever they felt would defend their interests.”

Those interests tend to fall more along economic than ethnic lines, Zuckerman pointed out. Mexico’s Jewish community, small but wealthy, is mainly middle- and upper-class. The Jewish poor are not poor by Mexican standards, and are helped out by the larger community.

“In terms of tolerance, that was not an issue. All of the candidates respect the constitution, and they are not a threat to the freedom of religion here in Mexico,” Zuckerman said.

Some Jews voted along class lines, fearing the similarity Calderon’s camp sought to depict between Lopez Obrador and Venezuela’s radical president, Hugo Chavez, Konik said. They also may have favored continuing the rule of the National Action Party, which had only six years in office following 70 years of uninterrupted rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party.

Some in the business community were unsettled by the prospect of a left-winger like Lopez Obrador taking over, “so maybe the threat was more [to Jews] as an economic class than as a religious group,” he said.

Konik estimated that about 60 percent of Jewish voters probably chose Calderon, 30 percent voted for Lopez Obrador and 10 percent for other parties. Both main candidates met with the community before the election.

With the electoral tribunal considering Lopez Obrador’s appeal, the Jewish community’s Central Committee urged conciliation and cooperation to heal a polarized nation.

The tribunal has until Aug. 31 to make a decision and until Sept. 6 to announce it and ratify the election, naming a final, unchallengeable winner.

“Once the results are known, and regardless of whoever wins, a reconciliation process must be initiated between the different political forces, including civil society, to create a true common front that permits us to face the great challenges confronting our country, challenges that require a united citizenry in order for us to move forward,” the committee said in a July 4 release.

“The Mexican Jewish community pledges its absolute support to our country and is ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who are declared elected as public officials.”

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