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Lopez Obrador Weighing His Next Move

The Mexican opposition leader must decide whether to form a shadow government or try to push reforms through protests.

September 14, 2006|Sam Enriquez and Carlos Martinez | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — Losing presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will ask his followers Saturday whether they want him to head a parallel government or just chip away at the old one with a long campaign of civil disobedience.

A week after the nation's elections tribunal declared Felipe Calderon the president-elect, the summer-long protest movement by Lopez Obrador supporters demanding a national recount is fading. Tents pitched by demonstrators on Paseo de la Reforma, the capital's central boulevard, have started to disappear.

Despite apparently dwindling popular support, Lopez Obrador maintains a firm grip on a loyal core eager to reshape Mexico for its legions of poor.

He's expected to chart their next move at Saturday's National Democratic Convention, which he called to protest the July 2 election, narrowly won by Calderon, and to revamp the nation's institutions.

Lopez Obrador knows he lost the election fight, most analysts said. What he wants now is a permanent opposition to the Calderon government, and a lever to nudge his Democratic Revolution Party cohorts in Congress.

"He's trying to force changes on a double path: one within the institutions and the other one on the street," said Roger Bartra, a sociologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

But Lopez Obrador will have to continue shaping hundreds of thousands of election protesters into a thriving leftist movement that can demand the attention of his party's congressional bloc, the second largest in the Senate and the lower house.

More than half a million delegates have signed up for Saturday's convention, organizers said, and tens of thousands more are expected to attend the event in the capital's central square, or Zocalo.

Delegates will decide whether they want to reform the government or start a new one -- a choice loaded with patriotic symbolism when offered on Mexico's Independence Day.

Simply declaring a new government doesn't give it any legitimacy. But followers of the charismatic Lopez Obrador don't seem worried.

The buzz among those rooting for a parallel government here is not whether the military will squash a nascent leftist rebellion or what to include in a reworked Mexican Constitution or even whether it's legal. It's over what to call their leader.

The longest thread on the convention's website forum concerns whether to declare Lopez Obrador the president of Mexico or name him "head of the resistance."


A Broader Debate

There's more to the discussion than a name: The many comments, protected by the forum's online anonymity, echo a broader debate over how far left to steer Mexico's new movement.

"He should be named 'Legitimate President' because it would be a very annoying counterbalance to Felipe Calderon," wrote "Hackal," who added, "He's already head of the resistance."

Others said they preferred a less provocative title than president, arguing that a direct challenge to the Mexican government was asking for trouble and reflected badly on their leader, who is often referred to by his initials.

"It's makes AMLO look like a dictator," said "Neon-Insurgents." "The key to the campaign of defamation against AMLO is to make him seem like a crazy person or a radical.... It's important that we're not so much a reactionary left but a left of center."

Rafael Hernandez Estrada, a member of the convention's organizing committee, said he believed delegates would favor naming Lopez Obrador the "elected president."

"We're also going to ask to create a parallel Cabinet," he said. "We won't vote on who'll be on the Cabinet. That will be up to the president."

None of the organizers could say what such a government would do next, or how they planned to govern. Lopez Obrador said the convention would draw its authority from Article 39 of the Mexican Constitution, which gives citizens the right to decide on their form of government.

But legal experts said the document does not envision changing the constitution by a show of hands on a public square, as planned for Saturday.

"Of course you can modify the form of government, but it has to be through established legal mechanisms," said Raul Carranca y Rivas, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

The registration of delegates, and their participation in the convention, keeps a tether on supporters and a ready-made contact list for Lopez Obrador as his recount campaign winds down. Some polls show his support fading.

Delegates could vote to keep the street blockades, but it's more likely protesters will go home next week, freeing up the Zocalo and several miles of Reforma after weeks of detours and worse-than-usual traffic jams, said Jose Agustin Ortiz Pinchetti, a member of the convention's organizing committee.

"We'll probably have new forms of civil resistance, but always peaceful ones," he said.

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