Partial Mexican recount ordered

August 06, 2006|By COLIN MCMAHON | COLIN MCMAHON,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MEXICO CITY -- Rejecting the principal demand of the leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico's highest electoral court ordered yesterday only a limited recount of votes in the disputed July 2 race for president.

Outside the tribunal building, Lopez Obrador supporters called the judges "rats," "traitors" and "sell-outs." They vowed to expand protests that have paralyzed downtown Mexico City. And one party leader warned ominously that the tenor of the demonstrations might change.

"We have been peaceful, but now there is a risk," said Emilio Serrano Jimenez, a Mexico City congressman from the Democratic Revolutionary Party. "This is putting in jeopardy the peaceful stability of the country."

Lopez Obrador narrowly lost to the conservative Felipe Calderon in a bitter, expensive election that exposed Mexico's deep ideological and regional differences.

But the popular former mayor of Mexico City refused to accept the official results, charging that fraud, conspiracies and mistakes gave Calderon the victory.

Both candidates appealed to the seven electoral judges, who are the highest-paid public servants in Mexico and whose decisions cannot be appealed.

Lopez Obrador sought a recount, "vote by vote, precinct by precinct." Calderon asked the court to confirm his victory.

Instead, the court unanimously found ground in between.

It rejected the arguments of Lopez Obrador's coalition that every ballot box in all 300 electoral districts must be opened and reviewed because the whole election was tainted by, among other things, favoritism on the part of federal authorities.

The court decided instead that it would look only at those districts in which specific challenges were made. It reviewed those complaints, the judges said, and decided they were valid enough to warrant a recount in 149 electoral districts spread out across all but six states.

While Lopez Obrador's lawyers argued that they had documented irregularities in more than half of Mexico's 130,000 precincts, the court ordered a recount in fewer than 12,000. That is about 9 percent of the total.

"I am absolutely in favor of this decision," said Luis Felipe Cruz Lesbros, a citizen electoral monitor from the state of Queretaro who came to hear the court's ruling yesterday. "The judges are correcting the errors that were made, in those cases where there were challenges. And errors were made."

The court did not specify how many ballots would be at stake. But if turnout at the targeted precincts was in line with turnout elsewhere, nearly 3.8 million votes might be recounted.

Calderon won by fewer than 244,000 votes out of nearly 42 million cast, according to official figures.

Officials from Calderon's National Action Party, known as the PAN, said they accepted the court's decision. They expressed confidence that the recount, which is to start this week and be finished by Aug. 14, would confirm Calderon's victory.

German Martinez, who represented Calderon and the National Action Party before federal electoral authorities, urged Lopez Obrador to respect the ruling.

"There are no good votes or bad votes for the various parties," Martinez said at a news conference. "On the part of the PAN, on the part of the presidential candidate Felipe Calderon, there is a sincere desire for dialogue."

The party that finished third, the once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, called the ruling correct and logical.

Lopez Obrador can bring hundreds of thousands of supporters into the streets. Some of them have expressed eagerness to expand their sit-ins, marches and road closings into more disruptive protests. One threat that surfaced this week was to block Mexico City's airport, and yesterday federal officials dispatched scores more police there to support beefed-up security.

Supporters such as Maria Hernandez were awaiting Lopez Obrador's instructions. But they made it clear just minutes after the court's ruling that they had no intention of accepting it.

"We feel like animals, like wounded animals," said Hernandez, a leader of a pro-Lopez Obrador group called the Women's Net. "We thought that there still might be a tiny, tiny bit of credibility left, not in the institutions, but in these judges here.

"We elected a person who could be president, and they are mocking us," she said. "You need to be blind to not see the evidence. But we are not blind. We are not deaf. We are not going to let this happen."

Colin McMahon writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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