July 4, 2006

Mexico leftist could call election protests

By Alistair Bell and Anahi Rama

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's leftist presidential
candidate, narrowly trailing his conservative rival in the
vote, will call street protests if necessary to challenge an
election he says was plagued with irregularities..

Senior aides to Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday
he was first taking his challenge to election authorities but
may then bring out supporters to back his fight against the
apparent razor-thin victory of ruling party candidate Felipe

"We are not calling for immediate demonstrations but of
course it could happen at some point," Manuel Camacho Solis,
the candidate's main political operator, told Reuters.

Mexico now appears certain to face two months of legal
wrangling over the results, and the threat of street protests
has raised fears of political unrest in a young democracy that
is key to U.S. interests over immigration, drug smuggling and

Camacho Solis said supporters were already pushing Lopez
Obrador, the combative former mayor of Mexico City, to take his
cause onto the streets. Many militants remember the 1988
election when fraud was widely believed to have robbed a
leftist of victory.

"People do not want a negotiation, they do not want us to
accept the result, but we have to guide the movement
politically so it doesn't end up in a greater confrontation."

Lopez Obrador's election campaign manager, Jesus Ortega,
also said protests were an obvious option.

"We will exercise our political rights and freedoms if
necessary, if we consider there were irregularities and nothing
is being done within the law to correct them," he said.

Preliminary returns gave Calderon 36.38 percent of the
vote, 1 percentage point or about 400,000 votes ahead of Lopez
Obrador's, although the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE,
ordered a recount of polling station returns this week.

Lopez Obrador says 3 million votes were not accounted for
and refused to accept the preliminary numbers.

His Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, has a team
of experts pulling together evidence of irregularities in
Sunday's vote. It planned to present further evidence of
election flaws later on Tuesday.

Mexico's election system has improved steadily over the
last decade and is widely respected, but it now faces a serious
test given the extremely tight presidential vote and the
animosity between Calderon and Lopez Obrador.

Lopez Obrador campaigned on promises to put Mexico's poor
first with new welfare benefits and infrastructure projects,
and has made clear he will not give up without a fight.

"We are committed with the citizens to act, to defend the
will of millions of Mexicans," he said on Monday night.

Calderon insists the preliminary returns are clear enough
and his National Action Party, or PAN, will ask the IFE to
declare him the winner on Wednesday.

Calderon has promised pro-business reforms and would be a
key ally of the United States in Latin America, where left-wing
leaders critical of Washington have taken power in Argentina,
Bolivia, Brazil, Uruguay and Venezuela in recent years.

Mexico won full democracy just six years ago, when voters
threw out the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, after
71 years of single-party rule.

Financial markets, however, have jumped since the election
with investors betting that Calderon's apparent victory will

Mexico's stock market jumped 4.8 percent on Monday and
gained another 1.9 percent on Tuesday morning.