MEXICO CITY—Mexico's electoral tribunal is expected to rule this weekend on whether it will order a recount of the razor-thin results of the presidential election that apparent losing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says was marred by fraud.
The tribunal's announcement Friday cast a pall of trepidation over the capital city, where several thousand Lopez Obrador followers have blockaded a main thoroughfare with tents since last Sunday to pressure the court to make a prompt decision.
The seven magistrates' ruling will determine whether the National Action Party's Felipe Calderon will maintain the victory he claimed after the July 2 vote or whether a partial or complete recount must begin.
Calderon won the initial count by 244,000 votes, less than a percentage point, and he contends that the election was free and fair. Lopez Obrador maintains that in 173 of 300 voting districts, the ballot was riddled with fraud and tabulation errors.
At stake is not only Mexico's presidency, but also a possible ratcheting up of the protest by Lopez Obrador's supporters.
This week's action already has caused major traffic gridlock, millions of pesos in losses for businesses and headaches for residents. But as officials of Lopez Obrador's leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party met Friday night to strategize, some predicted more serious action, including blockades of highways, bridges, ports, airports and government buildings.
Security already has been doubled at Mexico City's Benito Juarez International Airport.
In a speech Thursday night to his supporters at the Zocalo, Mexico City's historic square, where he has slept in a tent this week, Lopez Obrador said he didn't advocate violence but asserted that he'll accept nothing less than a full recount.
"If the vote-by-vote recount is not accepted, we are not going to allow a spurious president," he said. "Mexico does not deserve that. Our country does not deserve to be governed by a president without moral and political authority."
President Vicente Fox exhorted citizens Friday to respect the rule of law. "Mexico is and must continue to be a plural country, a tolerant country," he said. On Thursday, in an apparent reference to Lopez Obrador, he said the law wasn't a "custom-made suit."
The tribunal, which has received reams of documents supporting both contentions, could agree to retally the contested ballots, all the ballots, some of the ballots or leave the count as is.
Supporters of Lopez Obrador, who have come from across Mexico to sleep in the street the past six nights, enduring a freak hailstorm and torrential rain, said they were prepared to remain if the tribunal didn't agree with their candidate.
"We're sure there was fraud," said Maricruz Velasquez, sprinkling scarlet sawdust on the ground to form the recount campaign's slogan, "Vote by Vote." A chant of "people united will never be defeated" sounded nearby. "We're staying here however long it takes," Velasquez said. "This is an important struggle."
Many city residents and businesses, however, were only too ready to see the 47 camps pack up from the 5-mile stretch of the city's cobblestone center and Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City's swankiest streets, lined with five-star hotels, embassies and office towers.
Juan Carlos Robles, who sells cell phones and accessories along the Reforma, said he hoped that Lopez Obrador would accept the tribunal's ruling, come what may.
"This is chaos. I don't feel it's right," said Robles, whose sales have plummeted since the protest began. "I accept it because this is a democracy but democracy is also rule of law. He has to follow the law."
Although the tent cities have wreaked havoc—public buses have had to be rerouted, subway trains are jammed and workers have arrived late or not at all—the camps have remained clean, orderly and peaceful.
Protesters are well organized with water tanks, soup kitchens and banks of portable toilets. Activities are organized to keep participants occupied: everything from political discussions and impromptu rallies and marches to chess games, aerobics classes, soccer matches, and arts and crafts for kids.
Political columnist and analyst Rossana Fuentes said Lopez Obrador ran the risk of losing his more moderate supporters if he continued his campaign of "civil resistance" in the case of an adverse ruling from the tribunal.
"He could be facing a backlash," she said. "People are angry and fed up. We have to act within the rule of law. We have to keep cool."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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