Electoral officials begin partial recount in Mexico’s disputed presidential race
MEXICO CITY – Electoral officials began a partial recount of ballots Wednesday from Mexico’s contested presidential election as leftist demonstrators alleging vote fraud blocked bank headquarters in the capital and threatened to spread their protests nationwide.Guarded by soldiers and monitored by electoral judges and representatives of Mexico’s five political parties, authorities examined ballots from 9 percent – or 11,839 – of the 130,000 polling booths used during the July 2 vote.The count must finish by Sunday. The Federal Electoral Tribunal will review the results and can then declare a president-elect by Sept. 6, annul the election or order a greater recount.Initial election results gave conservative National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon a 240,000-vote – or less than 1 percent – lead over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Mexico City’s former mayor. The partial recount was unlikely to tip the balance in favor of Lopez Obrador, who has demanded a full recount.Across Mexico, electoral officials sliced open seals over doorways and pulled tape off doorknobs, reopening storage rooms that held the paper ballots. They sifted through ballots, reading aloud the tallies while searching for errors or evidence of fraud.At the 12th federal electoral district in Mexico City, Judge Julio Humberto Hernandez, various party representatives and six soldiers watched as officials spent nearly 90 minutes counting ballots from the first of 28 packages they were ordered to review.They discovered one less vote for Calderon, 11 votes more all together than were reported in the initial count, and five null votes instead of the seven initially reported.”This is proof they did things badly,” Agustin Guerrero, a representative of Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, said of federal election officials.National Action Party officials told reporters the party’s observers had witnessed no major irregularities in any partial recount and said a recount in western Jalisco state gave Calderon about 2,000 additional votes.Ricardo Monreal, who is leading Lopez Obrador’s legal challenges in the Federal Electoral Tribunal, held out hope that any irregularities found in the partial recount could serve to order a broader recount of at least 72,000 polling places.Calderon welcomed the partial recount, saying it would cement his advantage. But Lopez Obrador vowed to continue disruptive protests to push for a recount of all 41 million ballots. He claims widespread fraud and mistaken tallies cost him the election.The electoral tribunal’s seven judges unanimously denied a full review, instead ordering recounts at polling places where they deemed problems were evident.Lopez Obrador’s supporters are camped along Mexico City’s main Reforma Avenue and the central Zocalo plaza, snarling traffic and commerce and trying the patience of many of the 23 million people who live and work in the Mexico City metropolitan area.On Wednesday, dozens of Lopez Obrador supporters blocked the entrance to the main offices of three foreign-owned banks in Mexico City, chanting “Vote by vote!” and “Long Live Democracy!”Wolfgang Eckhart, a Bancomer branch employee, said the protests were not affecting the bank’s daily operations.Marti Batres, president of the PRD in Mexico City, said the party was targeting banks because “these financial centers sponsored a dirty campaign against Lopez Obrador.” He also said the banks financed Calderon’s campaign, an allegation the banks have denied.Also Wednesday, National Action Party General-Secretary Cesar Nava said his party had knowledge of an attempt by some members of Lopez Obrador’s party to enter National Action offices on Tuesday uninvited.PRD spokesman Gerardo Fernandez vehemently denied the allegations. “They are liars,” he said. “There has been no intent to enter any offices of the PAN.”The demonstrators’ bank blockades came a day after they briefly took over tollbooths on highways leading into the capital, allowing motorists free passage.”We ask for understanding of these disturbances we are causing because we are building democracy, because we want things to change and because it isn’t enough to just stay quiet,” said Gilberto Ensastiga, a PRD representative who led protests in front of the HSBC bank on Reforma Avenue.Fellow protest leader Edgar Torres said demonstrators would move elsewhere Thursday, but he declined to detail their plans.Ensastiga reiterated Lopez Obrador’s promise to expand the protest movement across the country.”You will see more in the north, in the center and in the south,” he said.
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