Mexico declares winner

Conservative named president-elect

leftist who finished a close 2nd remains defiant

September 06, 2006|By Hector Tobar | Hector Tobar,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEXICO CITY -- The nation's top electoral court declared conservative candidate Felipe Calderon president-elect yesterday, but the decision is unlikely to resolve a political crisis sparked by the muddled outcome of the July 2 contest.

The ruling approved unanimously by the seven judges of the Federal Electoral Tribunal is final and cannot be appealed. But losing leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was not expected to concede defeat. In recent days he has vowed to draft a new constitution and create a parallel government.

Lopez Obrador also has urged his supporters to continue the protests in which they have barricaded key avenues of the capital and prevented President Vicente Fox from delivering his final State of the Nation speech to Congress.

The final tally released by the court yesterday showed Calderon defeated Lopez Obrador by 233,831 votes out of 41 million cast.

Calderon is to take the oath of office Dec. 1, giving Fox three months to resolve the political crisis and ensure a peaceful succession.

A 44-year-old stalwart of the National Action Party, Calderon was virtually unknown to most Mexicans two years ago. He is a former congressman and was energy secretary under Fox.

No Mexican president has ever assumed office with so tiny a victory margin. Calderon won 35.7 percent of the vote, and a poll this week by the newspaper El Universal found that 39 percent of Mexicans believe the election was stolen from Lopez Obrador.

Yesterday, tribunal Magistrate Alfonsina Navarro Hidalgo said that the many irregularities cited by Lopez Obrador in his complaint were of a minor nature and did not rise to the legal standard needed to overturn the result.

"There are no perfect elections," she said. "To think otherwise is a utopia."

Magistrate Eloy Fuentes Cerda said, "The winner of the election is the candidate who wins the most votes, no matter how small the margin."

Last week, the court found Lopez Obrador's charges of vast fraud at thousands of polling places unfounded. Judges were critical of Fox, whose public-service advertisements on behalf of his party's candidate were ordered off the air on grounds that they violated election laws that limit what incumbent presidents can do and say to help ruling party candidates.

The seven-judge panel found that Fox's statements "put at risk the validity of the election."

But the panel said a court order weeks before the election that forced Fox to stop airing the spots was sufficient.

With Lopez Obrador promising to build a resistance movement to what he termed Calderon's "simulated" presidency, Mexico faces a long period of instability in which the social and regional divisions that defined the presidential campaign could become sharper.

Calderon won a narrow, come-from-behind victory over Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party, in large measure by playing to the fears of Mexico's middle class.

An unprecedented media blitz portrayed Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City, as an unhinged radical who would bankrupt the country.

The allegation that business groups poured unregulated money into defeating Lopez Obrador, including an ad that featured Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was among the evidence that Lopez Obrador presented in arguing that election results should be annulled.

On election night, both men claimed victory, setting off a sometimes tense, sometimes farcical struggle for power that has tarnished the image of Mexico's nascent democratic institutions.

Hector Tobar writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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