Calderon Holds Lead in Mexican Vote Recount

Conservative candidate Felipe Calderon seems headed for victory in Mexico's presidential race. He holds a razor-thin advantage over leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador after a recount of the highly contested election, but Obrador has threatened to contest the outcome.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

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CHADWICK: Felipe Calderon, the candidate from Mexico's conservative National Action Party known as PAN. He claimed victory in a pre-dawn speech this morning in that country's presidential elections.

About 99 percent of the votes have been counted by hand. His opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has dismissed the claim of victory, alleging irregularities in the vote count. He's going to challenge the result in court, he says.

I spoke earlier with reporter Michael O'Boyle in Mexico City.

MICHAEL O'BOYLE reporting:

You know, last night, Mexicans went to bed seeing figures on their TV screens saying Lopez Obrador was winning. This morning, they've woken up and Felipe Calderon is winning once again, and he probably will be declared the winner.

The last votes that have to be counted yet are coming in from districts that are very strong supporters of the PAN, Felipe Calderon's party. So this small margin we're seeing is only going to get a little bit wider as the day progresses.

CHADWICK: So what happened to turn this vote count around? Because Lopez Obrador had been leading last night.

O'BOYLE: Yeah. Now, see this is one of these elements that is confusing a lot of Mexicans, but if you really look at how the Federal Electoral Institute works down here and how the process works, it does make sense.

What was happening yesterday is that in all these 300 different district offices around Mexico, you had party representatives and you had the election officials recounting all the data from each polling booth. Now, party representatives could object during that process.

What was happening yesterday is representatives from Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's PRD party were objecting to practically every, you know, packet of votes that were coming in in heavily PAN areas. Whereas the PAN was trying to get the process over as quickly as possible and not objecting in the areas where Lopez Obrador had very strong support.

So what that meant is as the tallies were coming in during the day and being posted in real time at the Federal Electoral Institute, it appeared that Lopez Obrador had a lead during the day. Throughout the evening and the, you know, into the morning, that lead narrowed and narrowed and narrowed until about 4:00 this morning. Felipe Calderon finally overtook Lopez Obrador.

CHADWICK: What about this allegation I heard yesterday that there were 3 and a half million votes simply missing that hadn't been counted? What happened to that claim?

O'BOYLE: Well, those votes weren't actually missing. The Federal Electoral Institute had those votes accounted for.

What had happened is, there were some inconsistencies in how the final results or the tally at those polling stations was recorded. Say they put the wrong date. So what that meant is that the election officials couldn't use those tallies in their preliminary results that came out Sunday night and into Monday morning. So those 2.5 or so million votes were in that position.

Then there were another 600,000 votes that just weren't able to be counted during the preliminary count because they came from very rural polling booths that were very far away from the central district offices where they had to be physically brought to in order to be counted.

CHADWICK: If there is a challenge to this election, and if indeed it does take a month, what is going to happen to the government of Mexico?

O'BOYLE: The transition doesn't come until December. I mean, so there's plenty of time to work this out, but it's just the country is going to be on pins and needles for perhaps the rest of the summer.

The supporters of Lopez Obrador are already crying fraud. They deeply believe that they were robbed of his presidency, of his winning this election. So unless Lopez Obrador would change his mind, I think we're going to see a very polarized Mexico for the next couple months.

CHADWICK: Reporter Michael O'Boyle from Mexico City. Michael, thank you.

O'BOYLE: Thank you.

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