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Lopez Obrador Files Challenges

Lawyers for the leftist candidate in Mexico's presidential election seek a complete recount.

July 10, 2006|Richard Boudreaux and Carlos Martinez | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — Lawyers for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Sunday turned in documented allegations of irregularities that they said cost him the July 2 presidential election, and a senior aide warned that Mexico faces an "insurrection" unless all 41 million ballots are recounted.

The warning by Gerardo Fernandez Norona, the campaign's chief spokesman, was the most explicit high-level threat that the challenger's struggle to overturn his razor-thin defeat could erupt in civil disobedience and violence.

Lopez Obrador lost by 244,000 votes in the official tally, an average of less than two votes per polling place. His demand for a recount has been resisted by election officials and the apparent winner, Felipe Calderon of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN.

Fernandez said that if the seven-judge Federal Electoral Tribunal upheld the result without a full recount and allowed Calderon to take office, "we are not going to let him govern." He spoke to reporters outside an election district office where Horacio Duarte, the chief lawyer, delivered the documentation half an hour before a midnight deadline.

"The other road is insurrection," Fernandez said. "If the judges decide not [to recount each vote] we all have a problem -- they, we and the country.... What has to be done to avoid this confrontation? Count the votes one by one ... and if we lose, we will respect the result absolutely."

The legal challenge came a day after Lopez Obrador summoned 250,000 supporters to Mexico City's central square, the first of a round of marches and rallies in support of a recount. He urged them to remain peaceful, but has so far declined to say whether the street protests would continue if he lost the legal battle.

By submitting 836 pages of documents, Lopez Obrador's team of 30 lawyers set in motion legal steps that could take as long as two months to complete.

The lawyers presented their main set of documents to a Mexico City district office of the Federal Electoral Institute, which organized the election and counted the votes. Fernandez said officials of Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party filed separate challenges at each of the institute's 299 other offices.

By law, the electoral body must send the complaints, along with its own official vote counts, to the tribunal.

That body, the country's highest electoral authority, will then assign one of its judges to examine the case and draft an opinion for consideration by the entire bench.

The judges have an Aug. 31 deadline to rule on the case and another week to take whatever steps they decide are necessary, including a recount, to determine who won the election.

The fight over a recount has strained Mexico's democratic institutions just six years after PAN candidate Vicente Fox's election as president ended decades of one-party rule.

The task of reviewing this year's race is uncharted territory for the tribunal, which was chosen by the Senate in 1996 from a consensus list of all three major parties that ran in last week's election.

"The burden of the country's stability weighs on these seven people," Manuel Camacho Solis, a senior campaign advisor to Lopez Obrador, told reporters Sunday.

Camacho said the party's street protests were being timed to influence the tribunal's deliberations because of suspicions that the judges would be subject to counter-pressures from the government.

The tribunal's chief judge, Leonel Castillo, told Milenio magazine in an interview published Sunday that the electoral code permits recounts only of ballot boxes whose tally sheets indicate irregularities. But legal specialists said his colleagues might be divided on how to interpret the law.

The electoral institute recounted ballots from 6,524 of the 130,488 polling stations last week because of irregular tally sheets. Lopez Obrador contends that the limited recount gained him thousands of votes that previously had been uncounted or voided, raising doubts about the fairness of the entire count.

His aides said last week that they would seek a recount of ballots from 50,000 polling stations but later widened their demand.

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