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by Diego Cevallos

Tensions High as Mexico Presidency Hangs in the Balance

(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- The final count in Mexico's presidential election gives a narrow victory to the governing party candidate, Felipe Calderon. But his leftist rival Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced that he would challenge the result and he questioned the actions and independence of the electoral authorities.

Calderon, of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), won the election with 35.88 percent of the vote, just over a half of one percentage point more than the 35.31 percent obtained by Lopez Obrador, of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), according to the recount of the ballot returns carried out between Wednesday morning and Thursday.

Participating in the process were Mexican citizens, officials of the independent Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), observers and political party delegates.

The appeal that Lopez Obrador announced is provided for in law. As of this Thursday, July 6, the candidate and his party have four days to present their allegations to the Federal Elections Court.

The Court would then have until Aug. 31 to reach a verdict and proclaim the winner. The federal tribunal would also have the final decision of whether to carry out a new ballot-by-ballot count

After Calderon's victory was announced, the National Union of Workers (UNT), one of Mexico's main union federations, announced that it would back "peaceful civil resistance" in support of Lopez Obrador in the fight for "the legality of the vote."

In contrast, the Mexican Council of Businessmen (CMHN), defending the IFE, said it had acted impeccably. The group also called on everyone in the political arena to respect the election results.

According to allegations by the PRD candidate, the election was plagued with irregularities and the whole process was totally lacking in transparency. He also said that "the state apparatus" was biased in favor of "the rightwing candidate."

"We triumphed" in the election, and will prove it in the Federal Elections Court, which will be asked for a vote-by-vote recount, he said.

About Calderon, Lopez Obrador said, "He ought to be ashamed of proclaiming himself the winner." One cannot "aspire to the office of president without moral authority."

The leftist leader's attitude surprised most political analysts and observers, who considered the electoral process and the final count transparent and above suspicion. Although they acknowledged the existence of some irregularities, they said these were minor and had no impact on the result.

International observers described Mexico's electoral procedures and the work of the independent IFE as exemplary. They especially stressed the fact that the votes are handled and counted by ordinary citizens who are randomly chosen and then trained.

Some 900,000 independent citizens participated in the reception of votes cast by approximately 42 million Mexicans on Sunday, Jul. 2. They filled in the returns in a process observed and verified by delegates of the political parties.

The abstention rate on Sunday, when members of Congress and some local authorities were also elected, was nearly 40 percent of the just over 70 million registered to vote in this country of 103 million people. In 2000, the rate was 36 percent, and in 1994, 33 percent of voters did not cast ballots.

Annulled votes and ballots marked for non-registered candidates represent around 2.8 percent of the total votes cast in an election where the difference between first and second place in the presidential race was just 236,002 votes -- a margin so narrow that Lopez Obrador feels justified in asking for a recount.

Nevertheless, former IFE president Jose Woldenberg, who has been associated with the political left all his life, stated that it was "impossible" to commit electoral fraud under Mexico's present institutions and laws.

In his view, claims or insinuations that fraud was committed in Sunday's election were groundless and nonsensical.

In a statement, Javier Solana, the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, said the EU has every confidence in Mexico's electoral institutions.

The EU sent some 80 observers to Mexico's elections, who with other local and foreign observers made up a total of around 25,000.

Sure of what he considered to be his victory, Calderon declared that there is no doubt that the election was exemplary, and has asked his supporters to be fully alert during the appeals process.

"We need each and every one of you to be vigilant so that our votes are not consigned to the rubbish heap," he said.

He also called on his opponents to leave the electoral struggle behind and begin a new phase of reconciliation.

Calderon asked those who did not vote for him, more than 60 percent of the electorate, to give him an opportunity to earn their trust, and he pledged himself to govern on behalf of all Mexicans and not just his supporters.

A source working on Lopez Obrador's team, who preferred not to be named, told IPS that the left is fully convinced that "a fraud" had been perpetrated in Sunday's elections, and that the strategy to overcome it included denunciation in the courts and social mobilization.

Lopez Obrador called on his supporters to rally on Saturday afternoon, July 8, in the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square, for an "information day" when he will reveal the details of his allegations.

"Because of the narrow margin of difference and the confrontational attitude of the losing candidate, Mexican institutions are being put to a hard test. We hope they will be able to put out this fire," Horacio Medrano, a political scientist at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, told IPS.

"These events point to the deep political and regional divisions in Mexico today," he said.

The vote count indicated that the majority of states in the north of the country, which are economically the most powerful, preferred the conservative PAN candidate, whereas in the capital and the southern states, where poverty is more widespread, people voted for the leftist PRD candidate.

Whoever is confirmed as President Vicente Fox's successor will face strong opposition in Congress, where no party holds an absolute majority and the atmosphere is fraught with suspicion and friction. The electoral campaign was marked by mutual accusations between the two most powerful parties, the PRD and PAN.

When voting ended on Sunday, the PRD candidate Lopez Obrador declared himself the winner. However, the official preliminary count did not go his way.

On the day of the election, the IFE exhorted all candidates not to claim victory, explaining that the the count showed that the competition was too close to call.

Lopez Obrador claimed that the preliminary results were massaged by omitting the returns of three million votes, and that the process was manipulated.

The IFE replied that those returns had indeed been omitted from the preliminary results, because there were irregularities in the form-filling, crossings-out or other problems, but that they would certainly be counted.

The authorities also pointed out that leaving such possibly suspect returns out of the preliminary count was part of an agreement reached with the political parties in February.

The preliminary count gave Calderon an advantage of 0.6 percent of the votes over Lopez Obrador, while in the final count his lead was 0.57 percent.

According to Lopez Obrador, all the ballot boxes should have been opened and every vote recounted before the final result was announced. Furthermore, he found it suspicious that counting had happened so quickly, and he noted that during the first part of it, he had the lead.

The IFE pointed out that the law expressly indicated that the packets of votes could only be re-opened under specific circumstances, as when the return forms were visibly altered or there were discrepancies with those held by the political parties.

As for the speed of the process, several analysts attributed it to the diligence of the citizen councillors, who worked without a break in conjunction with political party delegates to compare and check every return, and forwarded the results to the IFE, which in accordance with its remit, opened vote packages where appropriate and recounted the votes.

With respect to the changing fortunes of the candidates during the vote counting process, in which Lopez Obrador was leading at first and was finally overtaken by Calderon, analysts explained that the last districts to submit returns were in the north of the country, where the governing party candidate prevailed.

Many northern states have a two-hour time difference with respect to the capital. It was also there that PRD delegates insisted most frequently on additional recounts of the votes, which contributed to delays.

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Albion Monitor   July 6, 2006   (

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