- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2006

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s top electoral court yesterday threw out leftists’ claims of massive fraud in last month’s presidential election, almost certainly handing victory to conservative candidate Felipe Calderon.

The seven judges voted unanimously to reject most of the legal complaints by left-wing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who said he was robbed of victory in the July 2 vote.

The judges, whose rulings are final and cannot be appealed, must declare a president-elect by Sept. 6.

Mr. Lopez Obrador reacted in outrage, calling on supporters to reject Mr. Calderon as president.

“Never more will we accept that an illegal and illegitimate government is installed in our country,” he told thousands gathered in Mexico City’s central plaza, the Associated Press reported.

Mr. Lopez Obrador’s supporters have paralyzed Mexico City with protests this month, and he has vowed to make the country ungovernable if the court declares Mr. Calderon the winner of the most bitterly contested election in Mexico’s modern history.

Mr. Calderon said he would not be rattled by protests. “I will assume my role as president if that’s what the court decides,” he said during an event for businesswomen. “I won’t let something that’s been decided by all the citizens be undermined by a few in a violent way.”

The initial result showed that Mr. Calderon, a former energy minister from the ruling National Action Party, won the election by 244,000 votes, or 0.58 of a percentage point.

The judges fell short of formally naming Mr. Calderon the winner, but they said there were only marginal changes to the original results after recounts and annulments at some of the most fiercely contested polling stations.

Leonel Castillo, president of the election tribunal, said Mr. Lopez Obrador’s charges of huge fraud “turned out to be completely unfounded.”

The court annulled results from scores of polling stations after a partial recount this month because of irregularities, but there was no sign of huge fraud, the judges said.

“We can tell people that today their votes were worth something and that they are definitive,” said another judge, Fernando Ojesto, adding that the court would rule on the election’s validity and give a final vote count in coming days.

The Mexican peso rose 0.85 percent to 10.88 per dollar as investors were convinced that pro-business Mr. Calderon would take over from President Vicente Fox on Dec. 1.

Mr. Calderon would be a U.S. ally, counterbalancing the influence of leftists in the region such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a foe of Washington.

The election split Mexico between left and right and is the most serious challenge to its democracy since Mr. Fox’s election victory six years ago, which ended seven decades of one-party rule.

Mr. Lopez Obrador says there were serious irregularities at more than half the polling stations. He has demanded a full recount of all 41 million votes cast and has set off street protests that have shut down central Mexico City.

Declaring Mr. Calderon the winner “would be an abuse of the people’s rights, a rupture of the constitutional order and a coup d’etat, which is offensive to millions of Mexicans,” Mr. Lopez Obrador told supporters Sunday in Mexico City’s central Zocalo square, where they have been camping overnight in a sit-in for almost a month.

But attendance at his mass rallies has dropped in the past two weeks, and a campaign of blockading highways, government buildings and foreign banks appears to be losing steam.



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