President of Mexico's top electoral court recommends upholding ruling party candidate's slim lead

Tuesday, September 5th 2006, 8:45 am
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The president of Mexico's top electoral court recommended Tuesday that the full tribunal uphold the slim lead of ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon.

The recommendation must still be approved, but Leonel Castillo suggested that the seven magistrates certify a final vote count showing Calderon with a 233,831-vote lead out of 41.6 million cast. That would trim Calderon's earlier lead of 240,000.

Such a decision has been widely expected, and the leftist rival candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador already has vowed to ignore the ruling, which comes after weeks of legal challenges and protests and cannot be appealed.

Experts said it was unlikely to close the growing political divide gripping the country.

``The court is going to say, 'The election was valid and Calderon is the president and that's the end of it,''' said political analyst Oscar Aguilar. ``But that won't turn the page. That won't end anything.''

Lopez Obrador and his supporters claim fraud, illicit government spending and dirty tricks swayed the election in favor of Calderon, a member of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party.

Lopez Obrador's supporters set up an overnight camp at the court's headquarters late Monday, vowing to prevent the judges from declaring Calderon president-elect. But only a few remained early Tuesday.

``This has been fraudulent from start to finish. Today, nothing will be decided,'' said Claudio Martinez, 23.

Most of the court's rulings so far have favored Calderon. The seven magistrates on Tuesday will give their final count in the election and decide whether it was valid. While they have the power to annul the election, there are no signs they plan to do so.

Both sides have said they believe the judges will confirm a Calderon victory.

``We are very calm, very sure,'' Juan Camilo Mourino, who heads Calderon's transition team, said Monday. ``Tomorrow, Felipe Calderon will be president-elect.''

Lopez Obrador, who previously indicated he expects the court to decide in Calderon's favor, barely made mention of the impending decision Monday during his nightly address to followers in Mexico City's historic central plaza, the Zocalo.

Instead, he focused on an upcoming national convention of his supporters to decide if he should declare himself head of a parallel government. Members of that government would then go on to vote on a series of government reforms.

``This movement is now about transforming the country,'' he said.

``What we are proposing now could just be a dream _ maybe it won't bear fruit, maybe it will be that we fail _ but you know what we have? We have confidence, and above all the responsibility to do it,'' he later added. ``The dreams of the men and women of today will be the realities of tomorrow.''

The convention is planned for Sept. 16, Mexico's Independence Day, in the Zocalo, where the armed forces traditionally gather for a march down Mexico City's main Reforma avenue. Both places have been occupied by protesters for more than a month.

Mexican presidents are limited by the constitution to one, six-year term, and Fox leaves office Dec. 1.

Protesters say they won't go home until Lopez Obrador is declared president _ and a court ruling in Calderon's favor will just fuel their fight.

Tensions spilled from the streets to the halls of Congress on Friday, when lawmakers from Lopez Obrador's party the podium of the legislature and blocked Fox from delivering his final state-of-the-nation address.

The party has also pledged to keep Calderon from being sworn in before Congress on Dec. 1.