Contender Alleges Mexico Vote Was Rigged
Populist's Plan for Legal Challenge Ignites Boisterous Crowd at Massive Rally in Capital
By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 9, 2006; A01
MEXICO CITY, July 8 -- Downtown Mexico City swelled Saturday with the accumulated frustration and rage of the poor, who were stoked into a sign-waving, fist-pumping frenzy by new fraud allegations that failed populist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador hopes will overturn the results of Mexico's presidential election.
López Obrador ignited the smoldering emotions of his followers Saturday morning, alleging for the first time that Mexico's electoral commission had rigged its computers before the July 2 election to ensure the half-percentage-point victory of Felipe Calderón, a champion of free trade. In a news conference before the rally, López Obrador called Calderón "an employee" of Mexico's powerful upper classes and said a victory by his conservative opponent would be "morally impossible."
López Obrador added a new layer of complexity to the crisis by saying he not only would challenge the results in the country's special elections court but also would attempt to have the election declared illegal by Mexico's Supreme Court. That strategy presages a constitutional confrontation because according to many legal experts the special elections court is the only body that can hear election challenges.
Calderón was declared the winner Thursday and has begun publicly presenting his plans for Mexico, even though López Obrador has refused to concede. European Union election observers have said they found no significant irregularities in the vote, and many Mexicans appeared to accept Calderón as their next president.
López Obrador's approach pairs legal maneuvers with mass public pressure. On Saturday, he gave a mega-display of street power, drawing an estimated 280,000 people into the city center on a humid, drizzly afternoon, according to a Mexico City government estimate.
The crowd chanted, "Strong, strong!" when López Obrador stepped to the microphone. The former Mexico City mayor then declared that the electoral commission had "played with the hopes" of millions of Mexicans by allegedly rigging the vote total. Thousands chanted back: "You are not alone!"
López Obrador also told the crowd that he was organizing a march to the capital Wednesday from all over Mexico, including states hundreds of miles distant.
"This is, and will continue to be, a peaceful movement," he said. Seconds later, he announced another mass rally, this one for July 16, at which the crowd raucously yelled back: "What time?"
During his 40-minute address, López Obrador stressed Mexico's class divide, accusing "powerful interests" of trying to deny democratic freedoms to "us, the poor." The crowd, which spilled into side streets off the square and may have been the largest of the presidential campaign, chanted, "Presidente, Presidente!"
Blaring kazoos competed with the thump and boom of massive speakers blasting salsa rhythms and a Spanish-language homage to López Obrador set to the tune of the American pop song, "Love Is in the Air."
López Obrador had called his followers into the large downtown square, the Zocalo, the backdrop for generations of Mexican revolutionary fervor, to lay out his long-shot case for overturning Calderón's apparent presidential victory. But he got more than that: He got a moment of mass catharsis, an outrageously loud, communal venting.
"The Mexican people are awakening," said Martín García Trujillo, a farm laborer from the state of Michoacan who had left at midnight for the six-hour bus ride to the capital. "We know Andrés Manuel won. They just won't let it happen. We can't take this anymore."
López Obrador wants a vote-by-vote count, which would require opening sealed vote packets from more than 130,000 polling stations. Electoral commission officials have sided with Calderón's strategists, who argue that the law does not allow for the packets to be opened unless tally sheets attached to the packets appear to have been altered. López Obrador said that only 2,600 vote packets were opened Tuesday and Wednesday during a marathon official count, which shrank Calderón's lead from 400,000 votes after a preliminary vote to 230,000.
Thousands of López Obrador's supporters, many of whom had marched across the city for hours, chanted "Voto por voto, casilla por casilla" -- vote by vote, polling place by polling place -- as they streamed into the Zocalo on Saturday. Many entered the square waving the yellow flags of López Obrador's Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD.
Street vendors hawked T-shirts bearing the now-ubiquitous cartoon depiction of López Obrador's face next to the word "Smile." Speakers screamed, "Vote by vote!" as their images flickered across a huge screen suspended above the stage.
x "They stole this from us," said Concepción Myen, 68, a lifelong Mexico City resident who is unemployed. "This is the worst thing that can happen to Mexico."x
Myen personifies the López Obrador target voter. She is a senior citizen and said she had looked forward to the monthly pensions López Obrador promised. She is also a single mother, who struggled to raise her child alone, and said her life would have been much better if the aid program López Obrador had vowed to give single mothers had existed when she needed it.
The anger on display in the square grows from decades of perceived indignities and a sense of persecution by a succession of ruling parties. García Trujillo, the farm worker from Michoacan, recalled feeling the same anguish in 1988 when the PRD candidate, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, lost a presidential race that many international observers have said was stolen by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. He said he felt the same rage two years ago when outgoing President Vicente Fox's administration unsuccessfully attempted to impeach López Obrador, who was then the mayor of Mexico City.
Now García Trujillo's anger is directed at another institutional power, Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, which has a stellar international reputation but is accused by López Obrador of "manipulating" the results.
The electoral institute will cede control of the election to Mexico's special elections court, which has until Sept. 6 to decide whether to certify the results. Calderón has not waited for the elections court, and neither have world leaders. He accepted congratulatory calls on Friday from President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But López Obrador cautioned against such formalities, saying, "Right now, there is no president-elect."
After López Obrador left the stage Saturday, the crowd lingered. Someone started singing the national anthem, and countless voices joined in its rallying cry: "Mexicans, to the shout of war!"
© 2006 The Washington Post Company