ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Three days after millions of Mexicans cast votes for their next President, the results still are not known. A preliminary tally gave a slight edge to conservative candidate Felipe Calderon, but the Electoral Commission only today began the official count and early results show leftist candidate Andres Manual Lopez Obrador in the lead.
As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports, each side has accused the other of trying to steal the election.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
This room in one of the 300 district offices verifying Sunday's contested vote is packed. Here and across Mexico, the tally sheets from each ballot box are being taken out of their sealed containers.
Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The results written on those sheets are read out to poll workers, election officials and party representatives. Individual ballots are only reviewed if there is a discrepancy or it looks like the box has been tampered with. But parties can object if they feel something has been overlooked, and in an election where every vote counts, complain they do. This is a battle that is being fought box by box. Repeatedly, the representative of Andres Manual Lopez Obrador's leftist party raises his hand.
Unidentified Man #2: (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: There was an inconsistency, he says here, and asks for the ballots in that box to be counted by hand.
Unidentified Man #3: (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: The representative from Felipe Calderon's party objects to his demand of a recount. Today is crucial, and the parties know it. Preliminary results gave conservative Felipe Calderon a lead of several hundred thousand votes. Today those results are being checked again before they're certified.
In a normal election, the Federal Electoral Institute would then declare a winner, but already the leftist candidate says he will not honor today's outcome unless there is a full recount. Miguel Camacho is a senior advisor to Lopez Obrador.
Mr. MIGUEL CAMACHO (Advisor to Andres Manual Lopez Obrador): We are finding one after another reasons to doubt about the transparency of this election, so it's much better to say let's count every vote, which can be done in two days, instead of two months of a country in a state of political crisis.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Camacho and his party are crying foul, saying that there has been fraud on the part of the Federal Election Institute.
Mr. CAMACHO: I cannot say that the institution failed. I cannot criticize everybody in effect, but somebody in effect cheated, that's for sure.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Across town, at the headquarters of Felipe Calderon, his advisor, Arturo Sarukhan(ph), says that the leftist party, or PRD, is acting in an anti-democratic fashion.
Mr. ARTURO SARUKHAN (Advisor to Felipe Calderon): What the PRD is actually trying to do is obtain through other means what they weren't unable to obtain through the ballot box. It is certainly a close election. We're not disputing that, but in democracy, you win or you lose, sometimes, by a vote.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Calderon today offered Lopez Obrador a position in his Cabinet if he wins, something that the leftist is unlikely to accept.
(Soundbite of political protesters)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Supporters of Lopez Obrador took to the streets today in the hundreds and marched towards Los Pinos, Mexico's White House, in protest. Street vendor Guadalupe Varga(ph) says that this demonstration was just an opening salvo in what could be a much longer war.
Ms. GUADALUPE VARGA (Mexican resident): (Speaking foreign language)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: She says, today we are few, but if they take away the victory of Lopez Obrador, all of us who support him will get together and then they will see how many come. We are millions.
Calderon supporters also say they feel like they will have been cheated if their candidate doesn't win. Once today's verification process is complete, political parties will have four days to raise specific objections. EFEI has until Sunday to announce a winner.
But the final outcome will probably only be decided by the Federal Electoral Tribunal, a kind of supreme court for electoral disputes. It would only render its verdict on September 6, leaving people to stew over the long, hot summer.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.