MEXICO CITY—Authorities are set to start on Wednesday a partial recount of ballots cast in Mexico's tightest presidential election in history, heightening the political tumult that has pervaded the country since the divisive July 2 vote.
Some 127 magistrates will supervise the recount of votes in 9 percent of the country's polling places, as second-place candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador continues to press for a full ballot recount with widening public protests.
On Tuesday morning, his supporters blocked motorists from paying tolls on five highways leading out of the capital city for about four hours. On Monday, his followers launched a campaign to heckle President Vicente Fox at his public appearances, yelling "traitor" as he inaugurated a highway in Puebla.
Thousands of protesters camping in tents have blocked Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma and historic downtown for the past 10 days and show no signs of tiring, much to the ire of residents and businesses.
Lopez Obrador has vowed to continue his "peaceful civil resistance" measures until a full vote recount is realized. He maintains that error and fraud cost him the election, which was won by National Action Party's Felipe Calderon by only 244,000 votes—a margin of 0.6 percent.
Analysts say Lopez Obrador, a leftist former mayor of Mexico City, is unlikely to get a full recount or overturn the outcome unless widespread irregularities are detected. The election was certified by international observers as free and fair.
More than half of the 11,839 precincts under scrutiny are in northern states, such as Jalisco, Baja California, Tamaulipas, Sonora and Chihuahua, where the conservative Calderon won by a large margin.
The recount, which must be concluded by Sunday, will be carried out by judges and their staff with representatives of political parties present. Parties can challenge votes, with the final ruling up to the Federal Electoral Tribunal in the case of major disputes.
"I don't see a major change in vote counts," said Jeffrey Weldon, a political science professor at the Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de Mexico. "Lopez Obrador just can't believe he lost."
If many mistakes are found, that would fuel Lopez Obrador's argument that a full recount of the 41 million votes cast in the election is justified and could set the stage for more demonstrations.
The Federal Electoral Tribunal could order a total recount or nullify the vote if a pattern of fraud is discovered, said Jeronimo Gomez del Campo, an expert in Mexican electoral law with Bryan Cave law firm in Phoenix. The tribunal must certify the election or call for a new one by Sept. 6.
A total vote recount has never been done in Mexico. Even partial recounts are uncommon, especially in national elections. "I see the chances of that happening as very slim. He has no evidence of fraud whatsoever," Gomez said.
Ultimately, it may not matter whether Lopez Obrador gets the recount, analysts say. He's still guaranteed a place on the national political scene by painting himself as a victim of fraud, and hard-core followers will back him. Analysts said that could be a way for him to stay relevant and in the public eye until he can next run for office, which would be in the congressional elections of 2009.
"He has no graceful exit strategy, and he doesn't want one," Weldon said. "Mexicans have to find a way to ignore him."
On Monday night, the candidate seemed to be setting the stage for his future role in politics.
If there's no total recount, "we are going to start a movement to transform the institutions of our country," he told thousands of followers in a rally outside the electoral tribunal.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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