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Mexico's losing battle

August 08, 2006

UNWILLING TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT his own dismal campaign may have cost him the presidency, Mexico's sore loser, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, is threatening to bring the country to a standstill. He repeated his call for a civil disobedience campaign in the aftermath of Saturday's preliminary decision by the nation's Federal Electoral Tribunal to review only 9% of ballots cast in the July 2 election.

Lopez Obrador, who lost by less than 1% of the vote to conservative Felipe Calderon, has demanded a full recount of all ballots, but the tribunal for now will be looking at polling places where affidavits suggest a possible error. Already, Lopez Obrador's cries that he was robbed have left Mexico City with a sizable headache. The leftist former mayor's supporters have pitched tents on the city's central square and along busy Reforma Avenue.

As much as Lopez Obrador would like to believe otherwise, this isn't the Mexico of a quarter of a century ago. The nation's electoral system is now independent. Lopez Obrador hasn't been victimized by an authoritarian government, as he and Calderon's party were in the heyday of the long-ruling Institutional Revolution Party, or PRI. Instead, Lopez Obrador is now trying to intimidate and undermine the democratic process.

In the weeks since the election, Lopez Obrador has been trying to have it both ways -- exercising his right to challenge the results before the specialized court created for that purpose while arguing that the vote was rigged and that he will never concede defeat. Thus far, his attempts to find irregularities have failed miserably. A video purported by Lopez Obrador in mid-July to show ballot stuffing in the state of Guanajuato was discounted by a representative from his own party. He replied, in typical fashion, by questioning the integrity of his party's representative.

Widespread fraud in this election would have been quite a logistical undertaking, involving hundreds of thousands of citizens chosen at random -- much like Americans are chosen for jury duty -- to operate polling stations.

Given Lopez Obrador's incessant complaining about the unfairness of the election, it is important to remember that the independent bodies that oversee elections in Mexico were largely created and designed in response to the urgings of Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. The tribunal could still call for a broader review, but Mexican law is wary of full recounts lest the election-day work of those conscripted ballot-counting citizens be undermined.

Even some within his party, including influential Michoacan Gov. Lazaro Cardenas (grandson of the nation's iconic populist president and son of the PRD's founder), are suggesting that Lopez Obrador's tantrums are going too far. And 15 of 17 PRI governors, who saw their presidential candidate come in third place, have echoed the assessment of international monitors who called the election exceptionally clean.

For their part, the two-thirds of Mexicans who did not vote for Lopez Obrador in July must be feeling a lot better about their decision with each passing day. Trouble is, even if Lopez Obrador only convinces a fraction of those who voted for him that he is the victim of a rapacious fraud, he can still do the country a great deal of harm.

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