MEXICO CITY—In a move that could potentially overturn the results of the country's closest presidential election in history, a tribunal decided Saturday to recount the ballots in almost half of Mexico's voting districts.
The decision by the electoral tribunal also set the stage for an escalation of protests by the defeated candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who had requested a full recount of the 41 million vote cast in the July 2 election.
Lopez Obrador, of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, lost by a scant 0.58 percent of the vote—244,000 ballots—to Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party.
Calderon maintains the elections were clean, but Lopez Obrador alleges results in at least 174 districts were tainted by fraud and tabulation mistakes.
Lopez Obrador, whose supporters have blocked Mexico City's main thoroughfare with tent camps since last Sunday to press for a total recount, had vowed to expand his "civil resistance" campaign if the seven magistrates ruled for only a partial recount.
Lopez Obrador, the former mayor of Mexico City, has talked of blocking highways, bridges, airports and other infrastructure.
With heavy security keeping several hundred protesters at bay from the tribunal building, the magistrates voted unanimously to re-tally votes in 149 of the 300 voting districts, contending that a total recount was not justified because not all the districts were being contested.
The magistrates said allegations of wrongdoing were unwarranted in 25 districts, partially warranted in 143 districts and fully warranted in 6 districts.
The recount is scheduled to begin Wednesday and must be completed by the following Monday. The tribunal has until Sept. 6 to certify results of the election or order a new vote.
Lopez Obrador's supporters, many of whom come from Mexico's lower classes, started to mobilize as word of the tribunal's decision circulated among the camps packed along a five-mile stretch of Paseo de la Reforma in the city's historic center.
Scattered groups of protesters chanted "Andres Manuel, hold on, the people are rising up," as colleagues penned new placards and banners with slogans such as, "We Demand 100 Percent of the Vote," and "We Do Not Accept the Decision."
The mood, though, appeared generally subdued as the protesters waited for Lopez Obrador to announce his next move. Some were talking about a massive march on Sunday similar to the one held last weekend.
"We're going to keep up the resistance," said Victor Hugo Gutierrez, an official with the closely allied Convergence Party. "It's good news because now we have the chance to close the gap of 244,000 votes but we're going to stay until all the votes are recounted in their entirety or Lopez Obrador tells us what to do," Gutierrez said.
Political experts saw the tribunal's decision as meeting Lopez Obrador halfway without putting the integrity of the electoral system in doubt.
"I see it as kind of a compromise outcome that responds to the heightened political tension in the country," said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, who leads the Mexico project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
"To some extent, a vote-by-vote recount would have been a vote of no confidence in the system," he said. "This is now going to increase pressure on Lopez Obrador. Public opinion is going to see that the institutions are trying to respond responsibly, and he is going to be seen as acting out of blind political ambition."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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