July 3, 2006

Mexican left’s anger simmers after contested vote

By Alistair Bell

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's left, still smarting from
a 1988 presidential vote it says was stolen from it, simmered
with anger on Monday as its dreams of power were frustrated by
another contested election.

Conservative candidate Felipe Calderon claimed victory in
Sunday's hard-fought presidential election and official returns
appeared to show anti-poverty campaigner Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador would be unable to catch him.

Harvard-educated Calderon held a one-point lead over former
Indian welfare officer Lopez Obrador on Monday with returns in
from almost 98 percent of polling stations. A top electoral
official said a recount this week was unlikely to change that.

Leaders of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution,
or PRD, were to meet Lopez Obrador to try to rescue his attempt
to become president and join the ranks of leftist leaders in
Latin America.

A tiny group of defiant Lopez Obrador supporters gathered
outside his campaign headquarters. Many said their candidate,
the former mayor of Mexico City, had been cheated of victory by
fraud. "He won more points that Calderon," said retired factory
worker Arturo Jimenez, 74.

"He lost, but unfairly. There was sleight of hand
involved," said office cleaner Carmen Sanchez.

No candidate has claimed to have evidence of vote-rigging
in the election, which the Federal Electoral Institute said was
too close to call yet.


But the PRD may point to irregularities, like some polling
stations that lacked ballot papers, in a bid to take the result
to an electoral court. That could delay the naming of a winner
for two months.

No leftist party has ever won the presidency in Mexico.
Left-wing candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas came very close in
1988, when results showed him ahead on election night.

But the Institutional Revolutionary Party government halted
the vote count, claiming "the (computer) system went down."

That explanation was believed by so few that it has become
a common sarcastic phrase in Mexico for the lamest of excuses.

When the government announced the system was back again a
few hours later, its candidate Carlos Salinas was winning.
Fraud was widely suspected.

"They robbed us in 1988. I don't want that again," said
Sanchez. She said she felt "hurt and anger" when electoral
authorities announced on Sunday night the race between Lopez
Obrador and Calderon was too close to call,

Lopez Obrador, 52, a frugal widower, has led in opinion
polls for most of the last three years.

He slipped briefly into second place in April and May when
Calderon's team launched TV ads dubbing him a danger to Mexico
and a populist like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

He said on Monday he would accept defeat if there were no
fraud but challenge the result if he suspected trickery.

Foreign investors fear Lopez Obrador will launch street
protests to try to push his election claim, triggering
political gridlock and maybe even violence.

Mexico City was quiet on Monday, except for a small student
protest outside the electoral authority's office.

Emilio Serrano, a PRD federal deputy, warned that things
could still turn nasty depending on the vote recount.

"The majority of poor and simple people who are sick of all
this are capable of anything," he said, "including violence."