Obrador alleges irregularities in election returns
(Dallas Morning News, The (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) MEXICO CITY _ Mexico's tense presidential race took another dramatic turn Monday night as leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador alleged irregularities in the preliminary election returns and said he would not accept the vote count.
Those returns showed conservative Felipe Calderon poised to win, with a 1 percentage point lead over his rival, and Lopez Obrador's statement raised anew concerns about possible unrest in the country.
"Evidently there was a manipulation," Lopez Obrador told reporters at headquarters of his Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.
He presented precinct report tallies that he said were not consistent with those the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, carried on its Web site.
"We will be presenting the information. I don't want to act rashly," he said.
With 98.45 percent of polling places reporting Monday night, Calderon, of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, was leading Lopez Obrador, 36.38 percent to 35.34 percent.
"Although it is not possible to say anything until the IFE announces who wins, we can say that with 98 percent of the (votes) in, we would see it as very difficult for the results to change," a person close to the counting told The Dallas Morning News.
The agency said it may have final, certified results Tuesday night and would open ballot boxes only where there was evidence of problems.
Earlier Monday, Lopez Obrador had seemed to move toward defusing a potentially volatile situation, suggesting for the first time that he might lose.
"I'm always going to act in a responsible manner. If we lose the election, I'm going to recognize that. If we win the election, even if only by one vote or two votes, I will defend that victory," he told the Televisa TV network.
But Lopez Obrador seemed as combative Monday night as he had been Sunday night, when he had called on the IFE to accept numbers he said showed that he won the election.
He told reporters Monday night that he believed 3 million votes had gone missing and that it was suspicious that early returns favored Calderon.
Urban areas generally report first in Mexico elections and Calderon did better than his rival in those areas, experts said.
Analysts late Monday said they were not surprised by Lopez Obrador's statement and some added that his position could lead to trouble.
"A scenario is being laid where apparently Lopez Obrador loses by a point and he begins to disqualify the process and begins to do what everyone is worried about," said Lauro Mercado Gasca, director general of Mercaei, a Mexico City research firm.
Others, however, were less dire in their assessments.
Lopez Obrador is simply saying that he wants to make sure the precinct reports are counted properly, said Kenneth Greene, assistant professor of government at the University of Texas-Austin, adding that "I don't see it as that big a deal."
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"I think people are worried about protests in the streets and that's a legitimate concern," Greene said. "But it is also a legitimate concern that all the votes are counted correctly and to this point, that seems to be all he's calling for.
"Now, there's some aggressive language here, but that's mostly the result of what happened in 1988, and they need to defend the vote aggressively."
It is widely believed that PRI candidate Carlos Salinas de Gortari stole the `88 election from Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the PRD.
Earlier Monday, Calderon said on Televisa that his lead of about 400,000 votes could not be reversed. "There is an irreversible result and it is in my favor," he said.
PAN officials called on the IFE to end the suspense and name a winner. Party spokesman Cesar Nava said the official vote count Monday evening was solid enough to give Calderon a clear, if slim, victory.
Both Lopez Obrador and Calderon said the IFE should have released the results from its scientific "quick count" Sunday night to give some certainty to the election. The institute chose not to make public the results from what essentially is a sample of representative polling places.
IFE chief Luis Carlos Ugalde, saying that the survey was within the margin of error, offered no numbers Sunday. Analysts said that might have been a mistake and may have increased tensions.
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Despite the criticism, the institute conducted an "impeccably administered" election, said Chappell Lawson, associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said Lopez Obrador may have risked inflaming the situation by "using the language of class-based politics."
"He was leaving open the option of vigorously challenging the election results with methods that go beyond the legally mandated methods of challenging them," said Lawson, principal investigator on Mexico 2006, a research project looking at issues in this year's election. "But he hasn't gone there yet and I'm not certain he will."
President Vicente Fox urged both sides to respect the IFE results. "It's the responsibility of all political actors to respect the law," he said.
In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Snow said President Bush will congratulate the winner when he's declared.
"We are going to work with the government of Mexico," he told reporters. "But at this point, like everybody else, when it comes to gaming out who's going to win and who's going to lose, we'll wait for the Mexican government and the election commission to make the announcement."
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Concern about unrest centered on the reaction of voters, who are divided along socioeconomic lines with the lower classes generally backing Lopez Obrador.
In the wee hours Monday, some of his supporters cruised around the Zocalo in a caravan of cars, blaring horns and shouting "No to fraud" and "Lies, Lies, Lies."
"Mexico is not Florida," read one sign, a reference to the close Bush-Gore presidential race of 2000.
Many said they had no confidence in the IFE and would abide not by the institute's final call, but by whatever decision Lopez Obrador took. Some of his supporters initially had called for demonstrations in Mexico City and the states of Morelos and Oaxaca, all Lopez Obrador strongholds.
"I'm willing to give my last drop of blood, not for Lopez Obrador, but for the millions and millions of poor people who have no choice but to take the streets to make our votes count, every vote count, not just those of the rich," said Jenaro Dominguez Martinez, 67, a member of a national group of indigenous people.
Some PRD members spoke in classic class-warfare terms, referring to the "bourgeoisie" and attacking the electoral system as corrupt.
"The IFE is made up of Calderon's friends. They have zero credibility," said Aida Porosi, 48, a beauty products vendor.
Nationwide polls over the years have consistently shown that the IFE is one of the most trusted agencies in Mexico, far better regarded than the police or even the government. In a recent poll for Excelsior, a Mexico City newspaper, 77 percent of respondents described the agency as impartial.
How Mexicans ultimately behave is up to the candidates, said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, director of the Mexico Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"A lot will depend on how the candidates conduct themselves," he said. "So far, everyone from the IFE, the president and the Mexican people, has reacted with prudence and restraint, except for the candidates themselves."
(Dallas Morning News correspondents Alfredo Corchado and Laurence Iliff and Mexico Bureau news assistant Javier Garcia contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, The Dallas Morning News.
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