Rivals Declare Victory in Mexican Elections

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Felipe Calderon and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador both declare victory in Mexico's presidential election. Authorities say an official vote count will not be complete until later in the week. With more than 30 million votes counted, preliminary numbers showed the two men only 300,000 votes apart.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LYNN NEARY, host:

And I'm Lynn Neary.

Mexicans are waiting to find out who their next president will be. Elections took place yesterday, and the body that oversees the vote declared the race too close to call. It's between a candidate from the left and one from the right.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Mexico City.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

After months of waiting and bitter campaigning, it came down to this. The president of Mexico's election body, Luis Carlos Ugalde, gave the nation the bad news.

Mr. LUIS CARLOS UGALDE (President, Federal Electoral Institute, Mexico): Foreign language spoken.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says the difference between those in first and second place is too narrow, and it's not possible, he said, to announce a winner. An official count will begin on Wednesday. And Ugalde promised that every one of the votes will be tallied, opening up the prospect of days of further uncertainty.

In any country, this would raise fears of a political crisis, but particularly in Mexico, a nascent democracy that has a history of rigged elections. Seventy-one years of one-party rule by the PRI was only broken in the last presidential race in 2000. There could be trouble.

(Soundbite of people cheering)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Of course, it didn't help when leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador declared victory shortly after the Election Institute's announcement.

Mr. ANDRES MANUEL LOPEZ OBRADOR (Candidate for President of Mexico): (Through translator) I would like to inform the Mexican people that according to our data, we won the presidency of the Republic by at least 500,000 votes.

I said during the campaign that I would respect the results, even if we lost by one vote. But I urge and ask the election authorities to respect our results.

(Soundbite of people chanting)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rightist candidate Felipe Calderon quickly followed suit.

MR. FELIPE CALDERON (Rightist Candidate for President of Mexico): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He said, according to our data, we don't have the least doubt that we have won the presidential elections. Outside his party's headquarters, supporters waited for Calderon to come out.

(Soundbite of people cheering)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Margarita Uribe got a hug and a kiss from the candidate. He reassured her that they had already won. After he was whisked off, Uribe said that Calderon supporters would protest vigorously if the results came out in favor of his rival.

Ms. MARGARITA URIBE (Calderon Supporter): (Through translator) We will all go out to the street. They cannot defraud us. They can't steal elections anymore. This isn't the old Mexico. We will not allow it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At the hotel where Lopez Obrador was giving his speech, Guadalupe Sanchez said if her candidate doesn't win, she won't trust the results.

Ms. GUADALUPE SANCHEZ (Lopez Obrador Supporter) (Through translator) The present government doesn't want to hand over power to us, but we are winning. The voice of the people has spoken.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All the polls in the run-up to this election pointed to a very tight race, and Mexico has found itself torn between two very different visions for the future here. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wants to be this country's first leftist president. He says that the poor must come first, and he wants the government to provide jobs through massive public works projects.

Felipe Calderon is a Harvard-educated technocrat, who is from President Vicente Fox's party. He wants to continue free market reforms. Both parties waged a vicious campaign that split the electorate.

On Sunday, in the poor neighborhood of Ixtapalapa in Mexico City, voters lined up outside a polling center. This election has even divided families. Forty-nine-year-old housewife Arieli Perez(ph) is voting for Lopez Obrador.

Ms. ARIELI PEREZ (Lopez Obrador Supporter): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says we really need a change, a real change, not just words. Her husband, Pablo Penorio(ph), is voting for Calderon.

Mr. PABLO PENORIO (Calderon Supporter): (Foreign language spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, he's the most honest candidate, the most qualified. Now that the results are up in the air, instead of healing the divisions, the country remains polarized.

Mr. ARMAND B. PESCHARD-SVERDRUP (Director, Mexico Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies): It just happens to be the worst-case scenario.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Armand Peschard is a Mexico expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. He's in Mexico City observing the vote.

Mr. PESCHARD: Now you've got two candidates, each claiming to have, you know, the data that corroborates their victory. So now you, in essence, have two self-proclaimed winners. And we can expect this, court challenges.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Peschard is worried that the progress that Mexico has made in becoming a true democracy could now be undone.

Mr. PESCHARD: I almost feel like Mexico has taken one step forward and two steps back.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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