Losing candidate vows to continue protest

August 14, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MEXICO CITY -- As the courts completed a partial recount of votes in last month's presidential election, the beleaguered leftist candidate vowed yesterday to keep up a campaign of civil disobedience against the government for years, if necessary, to protest what he sees as a fraudulent election.

Speaking at a rally in the capital's central square, the candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor who champions the cause of the poor, declared, "The object of our movement is to save democracy and make the constitution mean something."

"We are prepared to resist for whatever time is necessary, even for years, if the circumstances merit it," he added. "Here and now begins a new chapter in the life of Mexico. The simulated republic is finished."

Last month, the official tally by the Federal Electoral Commission showed that Felipe Calderon, the conservative candidate, from President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, had won a narrow victory - by 243,000 votes out of 41 million cast.

But Lopez Obrador insisted there had been fraud and demanded a full recount. In response, an electoral tribunal responsible for ratifying the results and resolving challenges ordered a partial recount of about 12,000 polling places. The seven-member court must rule on the challenges and designate a new president by Sept. 6. The partial recount was to be finished by midnight yesterday.

Lopez Obrador's aides contended yesterday that evidence had surfaced during the partial recount that ballots were missing in some polling places while extra ballots had turned up in others. They referred to the irregularities as evidence that ballot boxes had been stuffed in some precincts and that marked ballots had been disposed of in others.

Lopez Obrador said he would ask the electoral tribunal today to annul the vote in 7,000 polling places where his representatives maintain that irregularities took place. His aides contend that throwing out the results from those polling places would give Lopez Obrador the victory.

Lawyers for Calderon's party, however, dispute the claim of missing ballots in any polling places. Nor do they agree that more ballots were cast than had been delivered in some precincts. They accuse Lopez Obrador and others in the Party of the Democratic Revolution of lying to convince their supporters that there was fraud.

"We can say with absolute certainty there are no missing ballots, nor were there any fraudulent practices," said Cesar Nava, a lawyer for Calderon's party. "The PRD lies."

The question of whether Lopez Obrador's charges of fraud were believable or merely a political smoke screen has dominated debates here from the dinner table to the airwaves and opinion pages, with no end in sight.

He has broadened his initial accusations of irregularities in the voting and now asserts that there was a broad conspiracy to rob him of victory by the current president's party, the long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, and business leaders and members of the electoral institute. On Saturday, for instance, he said, "It is not acceptable for a group of privileged people to decide the future of the nation."

Calderon, meanwhile, has kept a relatively low profile, speaking to various business associations and civic groups about his plan to revitalize the economy. His aides, denying that his party stuffed ballot boxes or committed other types of fraud, have maintained that the election was clean and fair. Calderon has also promised to abide by the court's decision.

Some voters who supported Lopez Obrador say they have become disenchanted as he has tried to discredit the electoral institute and the tribunal, which they regard as critical to Mexico's fledgling democracy. Some say that his increasingly revolutionary stance, along with what seems to be his inability to believe that he may have lost, confirms Calderon's accusation that Lopez Obrador is, at heart, a leftist autocrat in the making.

But other voters here say that his demand for a recount makes sense, given Mexico's long history of fraudulent elections, and would dispel any doubts about the legitimacy of the next president.

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