MEXICO CITY—In a scene eerily reminiscent of the U.S. elections in 2000, Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Saturday that he was defrauded by a rigged computer count and vowed a legal challenge before a special electoral court and Mexico's highest civil court.
In a hastily called news conference with foreign correspondents on Saturday morning, six days Mexican's cast their vote, Lopez Obrador, of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) accused the Federal Electoral Institute of conspiring with the government to arrange his narrow defeat by a margin of 0.58 percent.
"They manipulated the electronic computer system," he said. The electoral body, known by its Spanish initials IFE, "introduced a computer model with a determined factor, where they beforehand knew how it would behave the entire day."
Specifically, Lopez Obrador believes the IFE, which has trained electoral authorities around the world and which polls show is held in high regard by Mexicans, conspired to shave points from his count and gave them to his opponent. Elections experts said conservative Felipe Calderon's tight margin of victory was akin to a difference of about two ballots per voting booth.
"This electoral organ folded completely before the government and its (ruling) party," said Lopez Obrador.
Current and former IFE officials deny the computerized vote count is open to manipulation. Foreign and domestic election observers saw no signs of fraud, but Lopez Obrador said he disagreed with them and called the elections "plagued by irregularities."
Lopez Obrador addressed journalists just hours before a massive "informative assembly" he called in Mexico City's picturesque Zocalo, an ancient city square that houses the National Cathedral. It was built by Spanish conquerors atop the ruins of the vanquished Aztec empire.
Tens of thousands of angry and vocal supporters streamed into square throughout the day, some carrying signs that read "This is just beginning" and "Vote by Vote," a reference to the candidates demand for a complete recount of every single vote cast.
Security was tight and organizers hoped crowds would swell above 200,000 people. Lopez Obrador told reporters he would continue peaceful street demonstrations in response to the faulty vote tally.
As people massed at the historic square late Saturday afternoon, many chanted "No Electoral Fraud."
Alberto Hernandez Culebro, one protestor, predicted that if the courts did not overturn the election, his nation could expect future disruptions, including street demonstrations, mass labor strikes and face-to-face confrontations with President Vicente Fox and president-elect Calderon. "There must be new elections," he said.
Jose Valtierra Campos, a university professor, called the election "a fraud, a theft." He also chided Bush for congratulating Calderon on his victory. "Tell Mr. Bush to keep his hands out of here. We can manage things. I think Bush doesn't have a reason to intervene in matters that don't involve him."
Although he didn't provide much detail, Lopez Obrador said party lawyers would begin filing complaints Sunday in five regional courts that belong to the Federal Electoral Tribunal, known by the Spanish acronym TRIFE. Those regional courts immediately pass challenges to the presidential election up to a supreme electoral tribunal in Mexico City. Lopez Obrador has until Monday to bring all challenges to the TRIFE.
Additionally, Lopez Obrador indicated he'd pursue a challenge with Mexico's Supreme Tribunal, the highest civil court, alleging that President Vicente Fox, who like Calderon belongs to the National Action Party (PAN), used the lever of government to boost his party's candidate. Mexico's election authorities in May ordered Fox to stop using public appearances to bolster his party's candidate, and Lopez Obrador alleges this support did irreparable harm.
The fiery populist bristled Saturday at the fact that President George W. Bush and Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called Calderon on Friday to congratulate him for winning Wednesday's official count. Lopez Obrador sees those calls as an affront because Mexico officially does not have a president-elect until the TRIFE validates the election results. It has until Sept. 6 to do so.
On Friday, Calderon held a news conference with foreign correspondents and assumed the air of a president-elect. His camp has started publicly discussing transition issues and cabinet positions. He tried to make it appear as a fait accompli that he's Mexico's next president.
"But that's not how things are, this is just the beginning," vowed Lopez Obrador.
During the final weeks of the bitter campaign, Lopez Obrador made a concerted effort to look as if he were a center-left candidate that would stick to basic free-market economic policies that Mexico has followed for nearly two decades. He was forced to modify his image, in part, because of attack ads by Calderon that scared middle-class voters. They described Lopez Obrador as a radical who would chase away investment and bring economic ruin.
On Saturday, Lopez Obrador didn't shy from scary rhetoric. He engaged in class warfare, dubbing the apparent winner of the presidential elections as a tool of the rich, and said that, win or lose, his party wouldn't work with Calderon in Congress.
"There is a project that the Right defends that consists of continuing the same economic policies that have impoverished the majority of Mexicans, and that we can not be a part of any coalition while this economic policy doesn't change," he said.
Lopez Obrador added, "At the core, the candidate of the right is a tool of a group that created powerful interests in Mexico, who for some time have converted the government into a committee that's at the service of minority."
Declining to say how he'd respond if the courts reject his bids to overturn election results, Lopez Obrador rejected charges that his protests are destabilizing the country.
"I think the main factor of destabilization, in this case, is the violation of the right people to freely elect their authorities," he said. "If there isn't democracy, there is instability."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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