August 28, 2006

Calderon near victory as Mexican court backs vote

By Chris Aspin and Kieran Murray

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's top electoral court threw
out allegations of massive fraud in last month's presidential
election on Monday, handing almost certain victory to
conservative candidate Felipe Calderon.

The seven judges voted unanimously to reject almost all the
legal complaints by left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez
Obrador, who said he was robbed of victory in the July 2 vote.

They stopped short of formally naming Calderon the winner,
but reported only marginal changes after examining the results
of a partial recount and throwing out more than 230,000 ballots
because of voting irregularities.

Lopez Obrador's supporters have paralyzed Mexico City with
protests this month and he has vowed to make the country
ungovernable if the court declares Calderon the winner of the
most bitterly contested election in Mexico's modern history.

Calderon vowed not to let protests rattle his victory.

"I won't let something that's been decided by all the
citizens be undermined by a few in a violent way," he said.

The initial result showed Calderon, a former energy
minister from the ruling National Action Party, won the
election by 244,000 votes, or just 0.58 of a percentage point.

Judges scrapped the results from hundreds of polling
stations where major irregularities were confirmed, but it made
little difference, cutting out 81,080 votes for Calderon and
76,897 for Lopez Obrador.

Court president Leonel Castillo said Lopez Obrador's claims
of huge fraud were "completely unfounded."

The judges, whose rulings are final and cannot be appealed,
must still rule on whether the entire election was fair and
formally declare a president-elect by September 6, but that is
widely seen as a formality.

Mexico's peso gained 0.83 percent and the stock market rose
1.1 percent as investors were convinced that pro-business
Calderon will take over from President Vicente Fox on December

The election split Mexico between left and right, rich and
poor. The crisis over alleged fraud is the most serious
challenge to its democracy since Fox's election victory in 2000
ended seven decades of one-party rule.

Lopez Obrador says there were serious irregularities at
more than half the polling stations. He repeatedly demanded a
recount of all 41 million votes cast and has launched street
protests that have shut down central Mexico City.


Calderon would be a regional U.S. ally and could
counterbalance the influence of leftist foes like Venezuela's
Hugo Chavez.

He pledged on Monday to mend the class rift in Mexico by
helping low-income groups like sugar cane workers, peasant
farmers, artisans and indigenous people.

"I don't want several Mexicos. I don't want an impoverished
Mexico. I want one single, strongly developed Mexico with solid
economic growth," he told lawmakers.

If Calderon's victory is confirmed by the court, Lopez
Obrador says, he will lead a civil resistance movement against
his rival or set up some kind of parallel government.

"We will not accept an imposition. We will not accept a
phony president," senior aide Horacio Duarte said.

A small group of leftist protesters demonstrated outside
the court, holding photos of Calderon labeled "traitor."

"The damned judges are corrupt. They are stealing the
election from us," said housewife Josefina Mondragon, 55.

One judge, Fernando Ojesto, said the court would rule on
the election's validity in the coming days and give a final
vote count.

"We can tell people that today their votes were worth
something and that they are definitive," he said.

Lopez Obrador claims he won the election and that a court
ruling in favor of Calderon would merely complete the fraud.