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1828Mexico begins review of presidential vote

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  • Greg Cannon
    Jul 5, 2006

      Mexico begins review of presidential vote

      By IOAN GRILLO, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 49
      minutes ago

      MEXICO CITY - Mexico began a marathon review of vote
      tallies Wednesday to determine whether conservative
      candidate Felipe Calderon really won the tight
      presidential race, while his leftist challenger
      insisted he was victorious and denounced what he
      called widespread irregularities.

      Calderon told The Associated Press that he would be
      willing to include his charismatic challenger in his
      Cabinet in an effort to avoid weeks of political
      impasse. But he said he didn't think Andres Manuel
      Lopez Obrador would accept, adding that the two men
      hadn't talked since the election.

      A preliminary count showed Calderon, of President
      Vicente Fox's conservative National Action Party,
      ahead by just 1 percentage point. Lopez Obrador
      demanded a recount of every ballot, saying Wednesday:
      "The political stability of the country hangs in the

      Lopez Obrador could mobilize millions if he doesn't
      get his way. In a news conference Wednesday, Calderon
      raised the possibility that he would do the same.

      "We could also call for protests, but the vote can't
      be replaced by demonstrations," he said. "They are
      trying to undermine an election without having the
      results to back it up."

      Federal Electoral Institute President Luis Carlos
      Ugalde said late Tuesday that 2.6 million votes were
      not included in the preliminary count because of
      "inconsistencies," such as poor handwriting or
      extraneous marks on the tally sheets attached outside
      each ballot box. Lopez Obrador had initially said
      those 2.6 million were "missing."

      If a review of the uncounted votes inside prove the
      numbers on these tally sheets are valid, Calderon
      would still lead, but by just 0.64 percent — about
      250,000 of the 41 million votes cast, Ugalde said.

      Electoral officials across Mexico began to review all
      the tally sheets Wednesday, a process that by law must
      continue around the clock until the final, official
      result is determined. It was unclear when that might

      The final count will be turned over to Mexico's
      electoral courts, where political parties can dispute
      the results. The electoral court is to certify the
      winner Sept. 6.

      Ugalde said officials would open ballot boxes to
      conduct individual counts only where there are tally
      sheet problems.

      In an initial meeting between electoral officials and
      party representatives, Horacio Duarte of Lopez
      Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party demanded that
      officials recount all the votes "for the health of the

      "There is one thing missing in this process:
      certainty," Duarte said.

      National Action's German Martinez responded, "They
      want to throw out the election because it didn't favor
      them. Pressure and blackmail should not prevail."

      The review that began Wednesday is crucial to proving
      the balloting was clean to a nation that emerged six
      years ago from 71 years of one-party rule replete with
      election fraud. Some fear that failure to convince the
      public and candidates it was a fair vote could spark
      widespread civil unrest.

      "Such a close race is a nightmare scenario," said Ted
      Lewis, an election observer for the San
      Francisco-based Global Exchange. "If the ruling party
      wins by a hair, a lot of people will jump to the
      conclusion that something is amiss."

      Lopez Obrador aide Claudia Sheinbaum said Wednesday
      that the party found "very grave inconsistencies" in
      at least 50,000 polling places, including 18,646 in
      which votes cast outnumbered ballots distributed by
      officials. There was no immediate response from
      election officials.

      "The entire handling of the preliminary count was
      irregular," Lopez Obrador told Mexico's TV Azteca in
      an interview Tuesday night. "We are convinced that we
      won and we're going to prove it."

      Directing his remarks to electoral officials, he said,
      "Make the review thorough so all will be satisfied.

      Ugalde said officials will open up ballot boxes to
      conduct individual counts only if there is evidence of
      specific irregularities.

      Mexico became accustomed to widespread accusations of
      electoral shenanigans during seven decades of rule by
      the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

      Fears of such fraud have sharply diminished since the
      electoral institute was founded in 1990s. The
      now-autonomous institute oversaw Fox's peaceful defeat
      of the PRI in 2000 and has been praised as a
      world-class electoral body that has advised emerging
      democracies, including Iraq and Haiti.

      Many Mexicans have a hard time discarding conspiracy
      theories, though.

      "It's very suspicious," said Miguel Angel Bobadilla, a
      33-year-old orange juice seller who voted for Lopez
      Obrador. "It has been three days since the election
      and they still haven't declared a winner."

      The silver-haired former mayor of Mexico City has
      inspired passionate support with promises to help
      millions of poor Mexicans, and has successfully
      rallied supporters to participate in huge marches.

      He has not called for any demonstrations since the
      election, although there were some scattered, peaceful
      protests supporting him Tuesday.

      Interior Secretary Carlos Abascal said Tuesday that
      the Fox administration "does not endorse the victory
      of anyone, at all."

      But political analyst Jose Antonio Crespo said there
      is still concern that some electoral officials are too
      close to Calderon. He said the electoral institute
      needs to be scrupulous in its review to prove Mexico's
      democratic credentials.

      "I am worried," Crespo said. "All the players must
      tread very carefully or this situation could escalate
      out of control."


      On the Net:

      Federal Electoral Institute: http://www.ife.org.mx
      (has English language site)
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