By Sara Miller Llana writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
Leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador refused to concede defeat Thursday in Mexico's closest-ever presidential race, after an official recount showed conservative candidate Felipe Calderon ahead by less than half a percentage point.
Alleging irregularities in the electoral process, Mr. Obrador promised to bring claims to a special electoral court and urged supporters to join him in the streets Saturday for a protest in the Zocalo, Mexico City's main square - raising the fear of violence in an already polarized nation with two distinct visions for the future.
Mexicans have been on edge since Sunday's election night, after electoral officials said the preliminary tally was too close to call. News sites were keeping a nearly live tally of the recount, which began Wednesday, allowing users to see updates every 10 minutes.
But they could be in for an even longer stretch of political limbo, one that could last through the summer. "Everyone has already proclaimed victory," says Robert Pastor, director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington. But "[a race] only closes when one of two things happen: those who lost concede defeat, or legal authorities certify the final results."
Before the recount began Wednesday, Obrador of the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD), who enticed the poor with his promises of pensions and employment, demanded a ballot-by-ballot recount to dissipate any fears of fraud after some 2.5 million votes were unaccounted for in the preliminary count. But that request was turned down by Luis Carlos Ugalde, president of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).
"Mexican law is very clear on when a ballot box can be opened: only when there are problems with the vote tallies, when the tally sheet has obviously been changed, or when the box has been tampered with," Mr. Ugalde said.
Unsatisfied with a recount he claims could not adequately uncover any alleged irregularities, Obrador will present a legal challenge to the Federal Electoral Tribunal (Trife). By law, he must file this challenge within four days of an official declaration by IFE of the final results. The Trife, which has the final word, must certify a winner by Sept. 6.
Analysts say it is still unclear what specific charges Obrador will bring to the court. "They will throw everything against the wall and hope it sticks," says George Grayson, a professor of government at the College of William & Mary, who authored a book about Obrador.
He expects Obrador to claim that President Vicente Fox unfairly voiced support of Calderon, also of Fox's National Action Party (PAN). Mr. Grayson also says Obrador will claim that IFE did not play fair by not accounting for 2.5 million votes in the preliminary count, and that in some precincts there were anomalies - such as more people voting for senators or deputies than they did president, or vice versa. …