How long can López Obrador keep up his fight?

Notes from different corners of the world.
July 10 2006 4:31 PM

Mexican Standoff

Will Mexico have a new president any time soon?

A supporter of López Obrador holds a sign declaring that he is president 
Click image to expand
A López Obrador supporter holds a sign declaring him president 

MEXICO CITY—Felipe Calderón and his supporters may have been partying up a storm Thursday and Friday to celebrate the conservative's win in the July 2 presidential election, but that doesn't mean Hortensia Vázquez is going to accept him as her new president.

The middle-aged administrator was one of the 250,000 supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the leftist candidate who narrowly lost the election, who swarmed Mexico City's central square, the Zócalo, late Saturday afternoon to demonstrate their support in the face of his stunning loss.

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"We've come to protest this election because we believe it was manipulated by PAN, the president, and IFE," said Vázquez, referring to Calderón's party, President Vicente Fox, and the Federal Electoral Institute, respectively. "We will wait until the tribunal rules, but I believe there is plenty of evidence of fraud."

Eight days after Mexicans went to the polls, many breathed a sigh of relief that their candidate, Calderón, triumphed over the charismatic but divisive López Obrador, who castigated the excesses of the government and the elite and championed the poor. But most of the faithful followers of "El Peje," as López Obrador is known, the fond nickname inspired by the feisty pejelagarto fish native to his home state of Tabasco, are unhappy about the result and the process that rendered their candidate the loser.

Students from a local university hold a sign that reads "IFE: Accomplice in Electoral Fraud"
Click image to expand
Students from a local university hold a sign that reads "IFE: Accomplice in Electoral Fraud"

According to the official results confirmed Thursday by IFE, López Obrador lost the presidential election by a hair—a margin of just 0.58 percent. He and his Democratic Revolutionary Party (known by its Spanish acronym, PRD) believe that with a recount of the votes cast in 50,000 out of 130,000 polling places, they can make up the 240,000 vote difference.

The party presented this request Sunday to a local court that will turn it over to the Federal Electoral Tribunal, a judicial body charged with handling federal election disputes. Among the PRD's complaints are that President Fox unfairly aided Calderón's campaign and that election officials miscounted votes. The second claim is based on last week's recount of results from about 2,600 polling sites, in which López Obrador gained thousands of votes. The tribunal must rule on López Obrador's charges and confirm the legitimacy of the next president by Sept. 6.

Hard evidence of fraud seems to be scarce, but some legal experts think López Obrador could pull it off.

"There are a host of procedural questions that will make the PRD's brief hard to defend before the judges, but I assume that a savvy lawyer can find the right strategies for legal moves and arguments, as [López Obrador's] chief lawyer did in the famous desafuero episode," said Federico Estévez, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technical Institute of Mexico.

Indeed, much of the current brouhaha over the election results is reminiscent of the desafuero, an affair that lasted though much of the spring of 2005 and showcased the deep rivalry between López Obrador and PAN. During the spat, PAN went all out to strip López Obrador, then mayor of Mexico City, of his legal immunity and disqualify him from the presidential race. The plan was to charge him with contempt in a dispute over expropriation of land. The charges were murky and evidence of López Obrador's direct involvement in the incident was scant; after Mexican intellectuals and foreign observers denounced the plot as undemocratic, Fox and PAN backed down and dropped the case.

As many as 250,000 supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador gathered in Mexico City's central square July 8, some carrying signs with angry messages like "No to F____g Fraud" and "Fox and Calderón: Traitors to Democracy" 
Click image to expand
As many as 250,000 supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador gathered in Mexico City's central square July 8

Just as his supporters turned out in the hundreds of thousands last April, they came out on Saturday and passionately showed their support, shouting a barrage of slogans from "You're not alone" to "Vote by vote, polling site by polling site." Many waved bright yellow flags, the signature color of the PRD, some carried banners bearing incendiary references to Calderón and IFE.

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