Passions Rise as Mexico Awaits Count

Supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador protest preliminary vote results in Mexico City.
Supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador protest preliminary vote results in Mexico City. (By Victor R. Caivano -- Associated Press)
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, July 5, 2006

MEXICO CITY, July 4 -- A big question looms over Mexico: Will Andrés Manuel López Obrador unleash the fury of the streets?

Emotions here intensified Tuesday as Mexico's electoral commission counted additional ballots, shrinking the lead of López Obrador's opponent, Felipe Calderón, from 400,000 votes, or 1 percent, to 257,000 votes, or 0.64 percent. López Obrador's supporters have also reacted emotionally as the populist candidate and his top aides have outlined a growing list of alleged election law violations. No large demonstrations have been held yet, apparently because López Obrador's supporters are waiting for a signal from him and because they want to see the results of an official count that begins Wednesday

Still, the rhetoric is getting more heated. On Tuesday, López Obrador's campaign demanded a ballot-by-ballot recount. And Emilio Serrano, a federal legislator from the candidate's Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, said in an interview that violence is possible if the vote-tampering allegations are proved.

"We are not afraid to die in the fight," Serrano said. "We in the public are tired of the lies and the abuses, which have been demonstrated over the length of our history."

Frustration and rage were spelled out in dozens of signs affixed by supporters to the wall of the modest apartment building where López Obrador lives in southern Mexico City. "Stand up for our vote!" one sign read.

Guadalupe Espina, a soft-spoken homemaker, leaned against a green Cadillac, watching one person after another put up signs.

"This is going to get bad," she said. "There were so many people at his last rally. There were so many people when he campaigned in the little towns. How could he have lost?"

Espina, 46, is a prototypical López Obrador voter, an out-of-work, lifelong resident of Mexico City, where López Obrador was mayor from 2000 until 2005. In a calm voice barely above a whisper, she said, "There could be violence.

"And if there is, I'll be there, I'll get involved."

López Obrador has incited massive demonstrations in Mexico City in the past. In 2004, he called tens of thousands of supporters into the streets to protest an attempt by President Vicente Fox's administration to impeach him and keep him off the presidential ballot. López Obrador fought off the impeachment and immediately became the overwhelming front-runner in opinion polls. His advisers have said in recent interviews that he may once again mobilize street protests, though they have insisted that the demonstrations will be peaceful.

Calderón, who ran on a platform of continuing "Foxismo," free trade and job creation, spent the day assuring supporters that his slim margin would hold up. He told reporters that he is so confident that he no longer gets out of bed 8early, as he did during the campaign.

López Obrador's campaign alleges that 3 million of the more than 40 million votes cast were lost by Mexico's electoral authority, the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE. The institute's head, Luis Carlos Ugalde, said in a television interview that 3 million votes were not counted because of problems such as duplicate ballots. Some of the ballots may be counted after being reviewed by the three major parties, but it is unclear whether that could 8affect the ultimate outcome. López Obrador's campaign aides have also said that votes were shaved off his total in his home state of Tabasco and that voters were threatened with rejection from social programs if they did not cast ballots for Calderón.

López Obrador's supporters are generally suspicious of IFE and of the nation's electoral process. Hard feelings remain over the presidential election of 1988 -- before IFE was formed -- when a consensus of observers said the then-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party committed widespread fraud to defeat the PRD candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas.

After the official count of this year's balloting is completed by IFE -- a process that could last until the weekend -- López Obrador is expected to challenge the outcome before a special electoral court that is required to certify presidential election results before Sept. 6.

"This is all a bad joke on the country," said Amsy Legaspi, a 23-year-old college student majoring in communication, as she lingered outside López Obrador's apartment building.

A few steps away, a sign outside the candidate's apartment, written by some unknown, impassioned hand, summed up her feelings: "If it's necessary, we'll revolt."

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