July 6, 2006

CORRECTED: Mexico locked in election recount drama

Corrects paragraph four to show that Mexico City is five
hours off GMT

By Greg Brosnan and Frank Jack Daniel

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A recount of Mexico's presidential
vote gave the advantage to a fiery leftist early in the day on
Wednesday but around midnight a conservative former energy
minister was gaining as Mexicans headed into a fourth day
without knowing who their next leader would be.

In scenes reminiscent of the Florida recount in the U.S.
presidential vote in 2000, first one candidate and then the
other had the upper hand as the recount proceeded into early

Leftist anti-poverty campaigner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
was ahead all day but then saw his lead cut back to a sliver
late on Wednesday.

Well-heeled supporters of former energy minister Felipe
Calderon, many waving blue, white and orange flags in joy,
began celebrating at the ruling National Action Party offices
around midnight (0500 GMT) as he appeared to be rapidly gaining
ground as results came in from north and west Mexico, his

Officials said it was still too close to declare a winner.

With 95 percent of polling stations reporting results of
their recounted ballots, Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of
Mexico City, led pro-U.S. free trade advocate Calderon by just
0.57 percentage points.

Calderon was judged to have won a preliminary count earlier
this week by 0.6 percentage points, but Lopez Obrador cried
foul and protests broke out in the capital to press claims that
he was the victim of fraud.

Lopez Obrador warned of trouble if the recount was not
handled properly. "The stability of the country is at stake."

Mexico's stock market plunged 4 percent and its peso fell
against the dollar because of the political tension.

The Harvard-educated Calderon is a pro-business lawyer and
would be an 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

Lopez Obrador says he wants good relations with Washington
but has promised to renegotiate a North American trade pact to
block cheap U.S. corn and beans entering Mexico as of 2008.


"It's more exciting than the World Cup," said Jeronimo
Aguirre Cruz, a Zapotec Indian lawyer watching news of the
recount on television at a bar in the city of Puebla.

Initial preliminary results earlier this week gave Calderon
the lead but Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution
complained of irregularities and possible fraud.

"There are many elements to suggest that the population was
cheated," said Manuel Camacho Solis, an aide to the leftist.

Leftist supporters gathered outside the headquarters of the
Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE, on Wednesday evening where
recount results were being announced.

Some were angry at what they said was fraud against Lopez
Obrador in the first count. The leftist, an austere widower,
led opinion polls for most of the last three years.

"If there's no resolution, there'll be revolution,"
demonstrators chanted outside. Supporters erected tents to stay
the night and lit candles in a vigil.

Official results of the recount showed Lopez Obrador had
35.88 percent of the vote with figures in from 94.92 percent of
polling stations. Calderon, from Fox's ruling National Action
Party, was second with 35.31 percent of the vote.

The loser of the recount is expected to appeal to Mexico's
electoral court, which must rule on vote disputes by August 31
and declare a winner by September 6.

Mexico could face two months of legal battles over the
results and street protests have raised fears of unrest in a
young democracy that is key to U.S. interests over immigration,
drug smuggling and security. The winner takes over on December

President Vicente Fox defeated the Institutional
Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in 2000 elections that ended 71
years of single-party rule.