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Mexican Runner-Up Remains Defiant

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (R), presidential candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), greets supporters during a rally in Mexico's city Zocalo square August 6, 2006.
Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (R), presidential candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), greets supporters during a rally in Mexico's city Zocalo square August 6, 2006. (Daniel Aguilar)

"This is instability," he said.

López Obrador's request for a full recount was turned down by the Federal Electoral Judicial Tribunal, which on Wednesday will begin overseeing a recount of votes cast in 9 percent of polling places and has until Sept. 6 to certify a winner. López Obrador's campaign estimates that 3.5 million votes will be recounted and believes it is unlikely that the partial recount will shift results in his favor.

"With such a small number recounted, they are not going to resolve this problem," López Obrador said.

A quarter of the polling places to be recounted are in the state of Jalisco, a Calderón stronghold anchored by the business hub of Guadalajara. Another 1,100 polling places will be recounted in Baja California, a region where Calderón drew strong support from business groups drawn to his pledge to expand Mexico's role in the global economy and encourage free trade.

"They think we're going to wear out," López Obrador said. "I can assure we're not going to wear out. When I try to defend my principles, I continue defending them even if I end up standing alone."

As he spoke, a matchbox with the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico's most revered saint, lay on the table and an image of Saint Judas Tadeo dangled from the tent frame. Mexico's best-known historian, Enrique Krauze, has dubbed López Obrador "a tropical messiah." But López Obrador mocked the moniker Sunday and declined to discuss his religious beliefs.

López Obrador got his start in politics in the eastern state of Tabasco, a swampy region known for its insularity and its history of colorful demagogic politicians. He takes his nickname -- "El Peje" -- from a water creature that thrives in Tabasco known as a pejelagarto , which has the body of a fish and a head similar to an alligator's.

During the interview, López Obrador -- a former Mexico City mayor -- described Mexico as a "racist" and "classist" country dominated by men who "are not businessmen, but are traffickers in influence." Opinion polling conducted since the election suggests that darker-skinned indigenous peoples supported him and his Democratic Revolutionary Party while lighter-skinned Mexicans supported Calderón, advisers said.

Mexico has a huge gap between the rich and poor -- nowhere more noticeable than in Mexico City, where a large elite class shops at Christofle and Cartier while millions live in grinding poverty. The poor are López Obrador's most ardent followers, but he said he is not a populist. "I am a leftist," he said.

He acknowledged that he makes the upper classes uncomfortable, saying that "they have a profound fear of losing their privileges."

López Obrador scoffed at attempts by the Calderón campaign to paint him as "a danger to Mexico" who would foment policies similar to the authoritarian style of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. During the campaign, critics resurrected allegations that he was responsible for the long-ago shooting death of his brother. López Obrador said that "there is not one bit of proof" that he was responsible.

"I'm pained" by the allegations, he said.

López Obrador's week-long vigil has coincided with unseasonably cold temperatures in Mexico City, which has been battered by torrential rain and several bursts of snow so unusual that they spawned front-page headlines. But López Obrador, who lives in a modest apartment, said the conditions were no bother.

He slept on the ground for much of the six years he worked with indigenous people in Tabasco. By comparison, his Zocalo accommodations are plush. Asked for a glimpse of his bedroom, he pulled aside a tarp and chuckled a bit at the sight of his low-slung cot.


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