Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Leftist's Challenges Raise Fears Of Violence

Hartford Courant - A big question looms over Mexico: Will Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador unleash the fury of the streets?

Emotions here have been intensifying in the past two days as the populist candidate for president and his top aides have outlined a growing list of alleged election law violations that they claim are responsible for the narrow lead of his opponent, Felipe Calderon.

No large demonstrations have been held yet, apparently because Lopez Obrador's supporters are waiting for a signal and because they want to see the results of an official count that begins today. The lead of Calderon, the National Action Party candidate, narrowed Tuesday from about 400,000 to about 257,000 ballots, or 0.6 of a percentage point, after election authorities added in about 2.5 million votes missing from earlier counts.

The rhetoric is getting more heated. On Tuesday, Lopez Obrador's campaign demanded a ballot-by-ballot recount. And Emilio Serrano, a federal legislator from the candidate's Democratic Revolutionary Party, said in an interview that violence is possible if the vote-tampering allegations are proven.

"We are not afraid to die in the fight," Serrano said. "We in the public are tired of the lies and the abuses, which have been demonstrated over the length of our history."

Frustration and rage were spelled out in dozens of signs affixed by supporters to the wall of the modest apartment building where Lopez Obrador lives in southern Mexico City. "Stand up for our vote," one sign read.

Guadalupe Espina, a soft-spoken housewife, leaned against a green Cadillac, watching one person after another put up signs.

"This is going to get bad," she said. "There were so many people at his last rally. There were so many people when he campaigned in the little towns. How could he have lost?"

Espina, 46, is a prototypical Lopez Obrador voter - an out-of-work, lifelong resident of Mexico City, where Lopez Obrador was mayor from 2000 until 2005. In a calm voice barely above a whisper, she said, "There could be violence. And if there is, I'll be there, I'll get involved."

Lopez Obrador has incited massive demonstrations in Mexico City in the past. In 2004, he called tens of thousands of supporters into the streets to protest an attempt by President Vicente Fox's administration to impeach him and keep him off the presidential ballot. His advisers have said in recent interviews that he may once again mobilize street protests, though they have insisted demonstrations will be peaceful.

Calderon, who ran on a platform of continuing "Foxismo," free trade and job creation, spent the day assuring supporters his slim margin would hold up.

Lopez Obrador's campaign claimed that 3 million votes - nearly 10 percent of the total cast - were lost by Mexico's electoral authority, the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE. Election authorities acknowledged Tuesday that the preliminary count did not include vote totals from more than 11,000 stations where "irregularities" were noted in official paperwork. They added the 2.5 million votes from those stations to the public count.