Thin Victory Fuels Mexican Election Spat

Mexico is preparing for a major post-election battle after conservative candidate Felipe Calderon won a razor-thin majority of votes in last weekend's election. Followers of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are crying foul; a protest rally is planned for Saturday.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Mexico is preparing for a major post-election battle. Conservative Felipe Calderon has officially won the presidency but he's not been named president-elect. His leftist rival, Andreas Manuel Lopez Obrador, says he will legally challenge the results. Lopez Obrador says there was fraud, and he's calling for street protests. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Mexico City.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:

This election is still far from over, though Felipe Calderon is certainly giving every appearance of being firmly in the driver's seat. He gave a news conference for the foreign press today and answered softball questions on what country he would visit first as president and what his relationship with Latin America will be. It seemed almost choreographed to show that Calderon's ascendancy is a fait accompli.

Mr. FELIPE CALDERON (Presidential Candidate, Mexico): (Through Translator) I'll be honest. There's no doubt as to who won. My opponents know exactly how things happened.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Once he's president, he said, he wants to heal the wounds of a divisive election.

Mr. CALDERON: (Through Translator) I understand the message of the ballot boxes. This is a plural country. I know the responsibility of us all, and mine particularly is national reconciliation.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But at the very same time across town, the leaders of Lopez Obrador's party were telling the press there that they would fight to the finish. Ricardo Monreal is an advisor to the leftist leader.

Mr. RICARDO MONREAL (Advisor): (Foreign spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says there is no president right now. No one is president. No one is president-elect. No one has the legal mandate. Lopez Obrador is calling for a vote by vote recount. So far only the tallies have been rechecked in a process that finished yesterday. The Federal Electoral Institute announced that Calderon had 206,000 more votes than Lopez Obrador, a tiny margin of victory. The process is now out of EFI's hands and it goes to a Supreme Court-style tribunal that is the only authority that can legally declare Mexico's new president.

Lopez Obrador's camp has said there were irregularities in at least 50,000 polling stations. Calderon says the elections were clean and fair.

Apart from the legal battle, this is also becoming a war of perception, says political analyst Denise Dresser.

Ms. DENISE DRESSER (Political Analyst): I think the only way forward for Mexico, regardless of who wins, is to call for a vote by vote recount because otherwise whoever it finally comes out of the count as the winner will be suspect. If every vote is not reviewed, there will be a question of legitimacy, a cloud of illegitimacy cast over the next president.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is a country with a history of rigged elections. Mexico only broke away from a system of one-party rule in 2000 with the election of President Vicente Fox. Still caught in the middle are the Mexican people, who are as divided as ever. On a Mexico City street, 77-year-old Francisco Bertran(ph) says that he's sick of the wrangling.

Mr. FRANCISCO BERTRAN (Resident, Mexico City): In my life I've seen a lot of elections, and this is the dirtiest ever. That Lopez Obrador should be locked up and sent to hell. He's good for nothing. They should just end all of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: 47-year-old Valentine Santano(ph) disagrees.

Mr. VALENTIN SANTANO (Resident, Mexico City): (Through Translator) I think the best thing for the nation is to have a vote by vote recount. I think it wouldn't hurt anyone, the winners or the losers. It would take away the uncertainty. If they don't do it, I'll always wonder. We have such a long history of tampered results.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lopez Obrador is holding the first of what he has promised will be many rallies tomorrow in the capital's main square. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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