Mexican Runner-Up Files Legal Challenge

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, July 10, 2006

MEXICO CITY, July 9 -- Legal advisers to the presidential election runner-up, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, gathered Sunday evening at a polling place guarded by soldiers toting machine guns and filed a formal challenge to Mexico's vote results.

The filing demands a vote-by-vote recount of the closest presidential election in Mexican history, which was decided Thursday when an official tally left López Obrador, the populist former mayor of Mexico City, a half-percentage-point behind Felipe Calderón, a champion of free trade. Outside the polling place, Manuel Camacho Solís, a top López Obrador strategist, accused election officials, as well as the administration of outgoing President Vicente Fox, of election violations that were "systematic and on a grand scale."

López Obrador chose a polling place in the Colonia del Valle neighborhood, a Calderón stronghold, because his strategists consider it emblematic of what they call a stolen election.

"We wanted to file in a place where they were operating," said Gerardo Fernandez, spokesman for López Obrador's Democratic Revolutionary Party.

Calderón and his campaign team kept a low profile over the weekend, saying they prefer to argue in court. Calderón has said there is "no doubt" about his 240,000-vote margin of victory and has received congratulatory calls from President Bush and other world leaders.

López Obrador's challenge will be heard by the Federal Electoral Tribunal, a seven-member special elections court, which has until Sept. 6 to decide whether to certify the results. The complaint consists of thousands of pages of documents, including e-mails that allegedly show that enrollment in social programs was used to coerce votes for Calderón.

The tribunal will also receive what López Obrador says is evidence of an Internet smear campaign against him and examples of alleged illegal campaigning by Fox, who, as president, was prohibited by law from involvement in political campaigns. López Obrador is also expected to use the complaint to resurrect one of his most effective campaign issues: allegations that Calderón's brother-in-law received sweetheart government contracts.

The challenge will assert, Camacho said, that the brother-in-law, Diego Zavala, was hired to develop software to review voter registration. López Obrador's supporters say the contract created a conflict of interest that could have been used to give Calderón an improper advantage.

In an interview before the election, the head of the electoral commission, Luis Carlos Ugalde, denied contracting with Zavala's company, known as Hildebrando.

During the campaign, Calderón and his brother-in-law vigorously denied wrongdoing.

López Obrador also alleges that the electoral commission preprogrammed its computers before the election to show a Calderón victory. Electoral commission officials on Sunday denied the accusation.

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