Contender Alleges Mexico Vote Was Rigged

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 9, 2006

MEXICO CITY, July 8 -- Downtown Mexico City swelled Saturday with the accumulated frustration and rage of the poor, who were stoked into a sign-waving, fist-pumping frenzy by new fraud allegations that failed populist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador hopes will overturn the results of Mexico's presidential election.

López Obrador ignited the smoldering emotions of his followers Saturday morning, alleging for the first time that Mexico's electoral commission had rigged its computers before the July 2 election to ensure the half-percentage-point victory of Felipe Calderón, a champion of free trade. In a news conference before the rally, López Obrador called Calderón "an employee" of Mexico's powerful upper classes and said a victory by his conservative opponent would be "morally impossible."

López Obrador added a new layer of complexity to the crisis by saying he not only would challenge the results in the country's special elections court but also would attempt to have the election declared illegal by Mexico's Supreme Court. That strategy presages a constitutional confrontation because according to many legal experts the special elections court is the only body that can hear election challenges.

Calderón was declared the winner Thursday and has begun publicly presenting his plans for Mexico, even though López Obrador has refused to concede. European Union election observers have said they found no significant irregularities in the vote, and many Mexicans appeared to accept Calderón as their next president.

López Obrador's approach pairs legal maneuvers with mass public pressure. On Saturday, he gave a mega-display of street power, drawing an estimated 280,000 people into the city center on a humid, drizzly afternoon, according to a Mexico City government estimate.

The crowd chanted, "Strong, strong!" when López Obrador stepped to the microphone. The former Mexico City mayor then declared that the electoral commission had "played with the hopes" of millions of Mexicans by allegedly rigging the vote total. Thousands chanted back: "You are not alone!"

López Obrador also told the crowd that he was organizing a march to the capital Wednesday from all over Mexico, including states hundreds of miles distant.

"This is, and will continue to be, a peaceful movement," he said. Seconds later, he announced another mass rally, this one for July 16, at which the crowd raucously yelled back: "What time?"

During his 40-minute address, López Obrador stressed Mexico's class divide, accusing "powerful interests" of trying to deny democratic freedoms to "us, the poor." The crowd, which spilled into side streets off the square and may have been the largest of the presidential campaign, chanted, "Presidente, Presidente!"

Blaring kazoos competed with the thump and boom of massive speakers blasting salsa rhythms and a Spanish-language homage to López Obrador set to the tune of the American pop song, "Love Is in the Air."

López Obrador had called his followers into the large downtown square, the Zocalo, the backdrop for generations of Mexican revolutionary fervor, to lay out his long-shot case for overturning Calderón's apparent presidential victory. But he got more than that: He got a moment of mass catharsis, an outrageously loud, communal venting.

"The Mexican people are awakening," said Martín García Trujillo, a farm laborer from the state of Michoacan who had left at midnight for the six-hour bus ride to the capital. "We know Andrés Manuel won. They just won't let it happen. We can't take this anymore."

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