Lopez Obrador urges supporters to protect Mexican democracy
MEXICO CITY – Leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called on a huge crowd of supporters Saturday to keep peacefully protesting as he went to court to challenge what he called his fraudulent electoral defeat.The fiery former Mexico City mayor said he would present fraud allegations to Mexico’s electoral court on Sunday and formally request that all 41 million votes be recounted.The ruling party’s Felipe Calderon can’t be declared president-elect until the electoral court weighs allegations of fraud or unfair campaign practices. The court has until Sept. 6 to declare a winner.”We are going to ask that they clean up the elections. We are going to ask that they count all the votes, vote-by-vote, poll-by-poll,” Lopez Obrador said, calling on the army to protect the integrity of every ballot box.Election monitors from the European Union said they found no irregularities in the count. Calderon says the vote was clean and has taken congratulatory phone calls from President Bush and the leaders of Canada, Spain and Colombia, among others, despite Lopez Obrador’s plea for foreign governments to hold off on recognizing the result.Lopez Obrador called for nationwide marches beginning Wednesday and converging on Mexico City for a July 16 rally.He provoked groans of disappointment when he told the crowd of more than 100,000 packing Mexico City’s central plaza not to block highways during the marches.”This has been and goes on being a peaceful movement,” he said. “We are not going to fall for any provocations.”The likelihood of continuing demonstrations suggests just how difficult it will be for Calderon to unify Mexicans, many of whom believe the nation has yet to overcome the decades of institutional corruption and fraud that kept its leaders in power.Lopez Obrador took direct aim at President Vicente Fox, accusing him of conspiring with Mexico’s autonomous elections agency, known as IFE, to engineer a Calderon victory.Election officials say Calderon, of Fox’s National Action Party, beat Lopez Obrador by less than 244,000 votes out of 41 million ballots – or a margin of about 0.6 percent.Lopez Obrador said Fox had betrayed the Mexicans whose outrage over repeated election fraud swept him into power in 2000 after 71 years of single-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.”He dedicated himself to attacking us and ended up being a complete traitor of democracy,” Lopez Obrador said. “And if that weren’t enough, the IFE, which should act with impartiality, turned into the pawn of the party of the right.”Lopez Obrador has millions of devoted followers who believe only he can help Mexico’s poor and downtrodden. Most of his supporters come from Mexico City and poor southern states, while Calderon’s strength is in Mexico’s industrialized north.Lopez Obrador claims a manual recount would confirm that hundreds of thousands of votes for him remain uncounted, miscounted or voided. The law allows such a recount only for specific polling places where credible evidence of irregularities exist. The leftist’s supporters say that applies to at least 50,000 of the approximately 130,000 polling places.The crowd in Mexico City’s famed Zocalo plaza would accept nothing less than victory.”We are never going to recognize this man (Calderon),” said Apolinario Fernandez, 37, a teacher from Lopez Obrador’s home state of Tabasco in the southeast. “If he wants, let him govern in the north for the rich, but not in the south.”Smaller demonstrations were held Saturday in Tijuana on the U.S. border and San Cristobal de las Casas in the south.Many traveled all night to arrive at the Zocalo, joining a sea of yellow, the color of Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party.”We are ready to do whatever is necessary,” said Belisario Cruz, 32, a farmer from Tabasco. “We are tired of the rich having everything and the poor having nothing.”There were no immediate reports of arrests or violence.Lopez Obrador must walk a tightrope in coming days. If he appears too radical, he risks hurting his party and its chances in the next presidential elections in 2012. If he appears too moderate, he risks disappointing his core supporters.Political analyst Oscar Aguilar predicted that he will never concede defeat.”Once the election results are certified, he will open a permanent campaign of criticizing the government,” Aguilar said.