MEXICO CITY—Mexico's top electoral tribunal on Tuesday declared conservative Felipe Calderon president-elect of Mexico, more than nine weeks after the disputed July 2 election, but the decision was unlikely to end protests by supporters of Calderon's leftist opponent.
The tribunal's seven judges unanimously rejected claims by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that Calderon's victory was fraudulent, clearing the way for Calderon's inauguration on Dec. 1. But the court criticized business supporters of Calderon and outgoing President Vicente Fox for actions that the judges said tainted the results, though not enough to merit annulling the elections.
"There is no perfect election. . . . To think otherwise would be a utopia," said Judge Alfonsina Navarro Hidalgo. "As the work of humans, elections are susceptible to the fallibility of mankind."
In a speech Tuesday night to cheering supporters yelling "Felipe! Felipe!" as he walked onto the stage at his party headquarters, Calderon called for national unity and extended an olive branch to all of his political adversaries.
"The electoral process has ended. The time has come for unity and agreement," he said. "To close the door to dialogue is to close the door on Mexico."
Lopez Obrador was hearing none of it. Addressing his own exuberant supporters in a soaking rain in downtown Mexico City, Lopez Obrador rejected the court's decision and told his followers that he would keep fighting to "abolish the regime of corruption and privileges" in Mexico.
"The people can establish the government they want, change it or abolish it," he said. "That's what we're going to do."
Some Lopez Obrador supporters, thousands of whom have lived in tents in central Mexico City for weeks, also said they were unbowed by the result and would continue their protests, even if police attempt to clear them.
"The state has always used violence to stop popular movements," said graphic designer Mario Alba, 52, who said he'd spent the last 37 nights in a tent in central Mexico City and had no plans to leave now.
But several union leaders, intellectuals and other Lopez Obrador allies suggested that Lopez Obrador and his supporters should drop their plans for ongoing protests in favor of negotiations with Calderon. Other political leaders, concerned that continued protests could make Mexico ungovernable, also urged reconciliation.
"What I'm calling for is a constructive dialogue that is respectful, inclusive and tolerant," said Mariano Palacios Alcocer, the head of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades until Fox, like Calderon a member of the National Action Party, or PAN, won in 2000.
"The important thing now is a dialogue that will restore governability," Palacios said.
U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza congratulated Calderon in a statement that made only an oblique reference to Lopez Obrador. "In any election, there must be a winner and a loser—and one key to a strong democracy is having candidates who can be both with grace and dignity," he said.
Lopez Obrador and his most ardent followers, convinced that the election was stolen from them, have long telegraphed how they'd respond if the court declared Calderon the victor: Permanent rebellion. Street protests as far as the eye can see. Efforts to disrupt Calderon's inauguration.
Lopez Obrador's campaign manager, Jesus Ortega Martinez, told reporters last weekend that lawmakers from Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, would block Calderon's swearing-in just like they stopped Fox from delivering his state of the union speech last week.
"We will not permit a president who manipulated the vote of the people to take office on December 1," he said.
For weeks, Lopez Obrador and his partisans have been waging a campaign of civil resistance, camping out in tents in downtown Mexico City and marching in the streets. The protests have snarled traffic and are beginning to inflict increasingly serious economic damage on hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
The next big flashpoint looms on Mexico's Independence Day, Sept. 16, when long-planned celebrations could bring angry protesters into a confrontation with federal police and the Mexican military.
The head of Mexico's armed forces, Gen. Gerardo Clemente Vega Garcia, said the customary military parade wouldn't be disrupted or moved from its traditional route—down the Paseo de La Reforma, the central Mexico City boulevard where thousands of Lopez Obrador supporters have been sleeping in tents that prevent any vehicular traffic.
Lopez Obrador also has said he'll stage a "national democratic convention" on Sept. 16 at the center of the traditional festivities—Mexico City's sprawling central square, or Zocalo.
Lopez Obrador has given few signs that he intends to back down. On Monday, for the first time, he raised the possibility of defeat. "What we're planning could be a dream, it might not bear fruit, we might fail," he said. But only three days earlier he'd spewed his trademark venom toward Calderon the "usurper," Fox the "traitor" and Mexico's "corrupt" federal bureaucracy.
"They can go to hell with their institutions," he said then. "We're going to have our own government."
Lopez Obrador had challenged Calderon's victory on a number of fronts, alleging fraud and illegal interference in the election process from Fox and a business group that backed Calderon.
The tribunal dismissed the fraud allegations on Aug. 28, but it reserved until Tuesday to rule on Lopez Obrador's other allegations.
Citing Mexico's strict electoral code, the court found that independent television ads sponsored by Calderon-friendly business leaders did violate Mexican law. It also ruled that Fox's advocacy for Calderon, who served in Fox's Cabinet as energy minister, violated the rules. Judge Navarro called Fox's role the election's "biggest irregularity."
The judges also trimmed Calderon's margin of victory from 244,000 votes, announced at the end of the official count, to 233,831—a margin of about 0.56 percent. The smaller victory resulted from mathematical errors and other problems the court discovered during its partial review of ballots.
But the court didn't release specifics from a review it undertook of certain precincts. That omission is likely to fuel Lopez Obrador's protest movement, said John Ackerman, a Mexican election law expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
"They haven't done everything possible to get to the bottom of what really happened," said Ackerman. "The way in which the decision was made does sort of play into Lopez Obrador's hands."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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