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Mexican Leftist's Strategy Involves Another Recount

Lopez Obrador's aides also allege interference by Fox. That could lead to a demand for a revote.

July 08, 2006|Hector Tobar and Richard Boudreaux | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — Top aides to leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called Friday for a recount of nearly half the votes cast in Sunday's presidential election and edged close to demanding that the entire vote be nullified.

The statements by the Lopez Obrador camp revealed a two-part strategy to deny a victory to conservative Felipe Calderon, who on Thursday was proclaimed the winner by a margin of little more than half a percentage point.

By insisting on a recount of about 18 million of the 41 million votes cast, aides said, Lopez Obrador hopes to overcome Calderon's official 244,000-vote margin. The leftist has been insisting since Monday that there were widespread irregularities in the tally.

Simultaneously, Lopez Obrador's aides allege that President Vicente Fox improperly influenced the vote -- an accusation that could provide grounds for asking Mexico's electoral tribunal to nullify the election and order a new one.

Calderon is with Fox's National Action Party, and Lopez Obrador's allies have been arguing that the president's many TV and radio commercials touting his administration's successes were a thinly veiled attempt to aid his party's candidate. Mexican law does not allow the incumbent to intervene in the election of a successor.

Fox "violated the principles of equity, impartiality and objectivity," said Ricardo Monreal, a top official with the Lopez Obrador campaign.

Calderon, for his part, said he would prevail in any legal battle. If his victory stands, he will take office Dec. 1.

In a news conference with foreign correspondents, Calderon said he had won a "clear victory" supported by "the will of millions of Mexicans." He pointed out that many ballot boxes were reopened and recounted Wednesday during the preparation of the final vote tally. Those recounts, he said, found only "minor variations" from the election night tally.

"There is no valid legal argument that will lead to" an annulment of the election, Calderon said.

Mexico's electoral tribunal has overturned the results of several gubernatorial and mayoral elections in recent years, ordering new votes. In those cases, the losing candidates made charges similar to those against Fox: that leaders used their influence over local media and control of government coffers to violate the principle of "equity" in the competition among the candidates.

But legal experts said it was unclear whether the tribunal had the legal authority to void a presidential election.

Beyond the legal issue, it was uncertain whether the panel, made up of highly respected jurists elected by Congress to 10-year terms, would be willing to risk the political and social conflict sure to follow the nullification of a presidential election.

"Whether they would dare to do this at the presidential level is a different question" than nullifying a state vote, said John M. Ackerman, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "But if Lopez Obrador decides to make such a case, they would have to take it seriously, because they have their own jurisprudence that requires them to do so."

Lorenzo Cordova, a specialist in electoral law and former member of Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, said the judges "would have to find very grave circumstances" before they could annul the election. "It's an action of last resort," Cordova said.

Monreal, with Lopez Obrador's campaign, said asking for the ballot boxes from 50,000 precincts to be reopened would be the Democratic Revolution Party's chief request before the tribunal.

But, he said, the PRD lawyers would also target Fox, whose commercials inundated the airwaves here for months until a court barred them in April.

President Fox "is the person primarily responsible for creating this election of state," Monreal said, using a phrase synonymous here with election tampering. He stopped short, however, of explicitly saying that Lopez Obrador would ask to have the election nullified.

On Friday, PRD lawyers and activists across Mexico prepared to submit to the electoral tribunal paperwork challenging the count. The deadline to file is Sunday.

PRD officials say they have ample evidence of irregularities. In many instances, they said, vote totals at precincts in Calderon strongholds, such as the central state of Guanajuato, exceeded the number of ballots delivered to those precincts.

The election was monitored by hundreds of international observers, many of whom lauded the apparent orderliness of Sunday's vote. Some, however, did note irregularities during the official count of polling station reports that began Wednesday.

Ted Lewis of the San Francisco-based nonprofit Global Exchange was among the hundreds of observers.

"A lot of people are prepared to say there's election fraud," Lewis said. "I'm not at all prepared to say that. I don't think that's really the case. But the perception of election fraud is there. I wish I could say it was all clean, but I'm not in that position."

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