Panel Weighs Challenges to Mexico Election

The Associated Press
Sunday, July 30, 2006; 1:38 AM

MEXICO CITY -- Lawyers for a leftist presidential candidate urged the top electoral court Saturday to order a recount of Mexico's extremely close elections, arguing it would clear up a dispute that has tested the country's young democracy.

The seven-judge panel is weighing 364 challenges to an official count that gave conservative candidate Felipe Calderon a slight advantage over former Mexico City Mayor Manuel Lopez Obrador, who claims the July 2 vote was tainted by fraud and a dirty campaign.

Lopez Obrador summoned his supporters for a demonstration Sunday, promising a record number of people would flood the capital's main square in his third mass protest since the election.

At the first hearing since the election, Lopez Obrador's lawyers argued there were mathematical errors, falsifications or other problems at 72,000 of the country's 130,000 polling places.

Calderon's lawyers were expected to outline their case Sunday. Officials from his National Action Party have submitted evidence they say shows the election was clean, while also filing their own challenges in districts that voted heavily for Lopez Obrador.

"The election was clean, it was competitive, it was closely observed," Calderon told a group of National Action mayors at his party's headquarters. "At the end of the day, we won the presidential election. Period."

An official count gave Calderon an advantage of less than 0.6 percent, about 240,000 votes out of 41 million cast. The Federal Electoral Tribunal has until Sept. 6 to either declare a winner or annul the election.

Lopez Obrador has said a vote-by-vote recount will prove he was the winner.

His attorneys told the tribunal that Calderon enjoyed his largest advantages at polling places where there were no observers from Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, and that many of the votes annulled by electoral officials favored Lopez Obrador.

Attorney Ricardo Monreal accused the government of President Vicente Fox, who belongs to the National Action Party, of using its power and money to influence the election. Fox leaves office Dec. 1.

"The court should not uphold the illegal intentions of the president," Monreal said, adding that the judges' decision "affects not only the rule of law in the country, but also society and democracy."

After weeks of protests and allegations that Mexico is slipping back to its fraudulent electoral past, many have begun to question the Federal Electoral Institute, the autonomous body responsible for organizing the election.

Democratic Revolution lawyer Arturo Nunez said Saturday that by ordering a ballot-by-ballot recount the judges could "clear up any doubt about the election," allowing the eventual winner to "legitimately confront the challenges of the presidency."

Demonstrators have camped out in front of the court for weeks to demand a recount.

"Calderon is a thief who won't benefit anyone but the rich. That's why we the poor are here," said protester Julieta Martinez, a 43-year-old federal employee who said she has spent all of her free time demonstrating in front of the court.

© 2006 The Associated Press