MEXICO CITY—Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador made it clear Saturday he won't go down without a fight, calling on a gathered multitude to join him in nationwide protests as he tries to prove to the courts that he was defrauded in last Sunday's election.
Speaking before hundreds of thousands of supporters dressed in the yellow and black of his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Lopez Obrador told his supporters across the nation to join him in launching a National March for Democracy beginning Wednesday and vowed to prove he was the winner in the photo-finish balloting.
"Cheer up, we are sure that despite all the anti-democratic practices, we won on July 2," he told the throngs gathered in Mexico City's picturesque Zocalo, the ancient city square where the National Cathedral sits atop ruins of the vanquished Aztec empire.
Lopez Obrador's call for the march, which will culminate with another massive "informative rally" in Zocalo on July 16, also guarantees difficult weeks ahead for Mexico. Its stock market bounced around last week and investors are sure to worry as Mexico's young democracy appears headed for its toughest test to date.
Addressing his supporters Saturday night—under a massive red, white and green Mexican flag—Lopez Obrador made it clear he would seek the presidency at nearly any cost because "beyond the technical arguments or legal foundations is democracy and the stability of the country."
Lopez Obrador finished second in July 2 voting, but his conservative rival Felipe Calderon won by about 243,000 votes out of more than 41 million cast, or a scant 0.58 percent margin.
Lopez Obrador overcame attempts last year to impeach him on a technicality when he was mayor of Mexico City, a move that would have prevented his presidential bid. He believes President Vicente Fox and electoral authorities conspired to deny him the presidency.
Speaking earlier Saturday to foreign correspondents, Lopez Obrador announced he'd bring several different allegations of irregularities to the special Federal Electoral Tribunal, known by its Spanish initials TRIFE. Using the word "fraud" for the first time, he alleged he was the victim of a rigged computer count.
"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 Federal Electoral Institute, which has trained electoral authorities around the world and is held in high regard by Mexican voters—conspired to shave points from his count and gave them to his opponent. Elections experts said that 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," Lopez Obrador told journalists.
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."
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, Booth by Booth," a reference to the candidate's demand for a complete recount of every single vote cast.
As people massed at the historic square late Saturday, Lopez Obrador was interrupted repeatedly by the chants of "Fraud, Fraud, Fraud."
Protestor Alberto Hernandez Culebro, owner of a small business, 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 Fox and apparent President-elect Calderon—both members of the ruling National Action Party (PAN).
"There must be new elections," he said.
Jose Valtierra Campos, a university professor, joined Lopez Obrador in chiding President Bush for calling Friday to congratulate Calderon on his victory.
"Tell Mr. Bush to keep his hands out of here. We can manage things," he said. "I think Bush doesn't have a reason to intervene in matters that don't involve him!"
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.
Although he didn't provide much detail, Lopez Obrador said party lawyers would begin filing complaints Sunday in five regional electoral courts that belong to the 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 said he'd pursue a challenge with Mexico's Supreme Tribunal, the highest civil court, alleging that Fox 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. In 2003, the electoral court voided a state election in Colima on the same charges that Lopez Obrador intends to bring—that presidential support did irreparable harm.
"Without a bit of shame, and without caring for the presidential investiture, (Fox) dedicated himself to attacking us and has ended up being a total traitor to democracy," said Lopez Obrador, in an unusually harsh attack on the president.
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 in his own news conference Saturday.
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. He added 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."
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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