- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2006

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s pro-business presidential candidate Felipe Calderon declared victory yesterday as official results gave the ruling-party candidate a razor-thin one-point lead over his left-wing rival.

“I think the results are irreversible,” Mr. Calderon said on national TV. “We won.”

But Mexico’s self-declared champion of the poor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, refused to concede the election, saying exit polls indicated he was in the lead. Late last night, he said that he would contest the results.

“We are going to take this to the corresponding legal authorities,” said the leftist candidate, prolonging months of bitter ideological campaigning between the two camps. “We will prove that we won.”

With 98.39 percent of the ballots counted, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) said Mr. Calderon’s National Action Party (PAN) had 36.38 percent of the vote, while Mr. Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) had 35.34 percent. Preliminary results showed Mr. Calderon with a lead of about 380,000 votes.

The narrow margins had people on the street already talking about vote fraud and worrying about six years of confrontational politics that would further stress Mexico’s economy. Mexico City was quiet yesterday, with business back to normal after the excitement of Sunday’s vote, dampened by torrential rain and the lack of a clear winner.

“The elections were fraudulent, because I feel that PAN did not really win,” said Josefina Ruiz Cortez, who works in a small jewelry store in a local covered market.

“I hope Obrador does not just sit with his arms crossed — the people supported him because he said he would help us, so I hope he does not forget us,” she said.

But the combative tone of the candidates made some Mexicans lower their heads in the expectation of years of political stalemate.

“The parties have never worked together. They spend years arguing and never agree — and this will be just more years of discussion. They make plans, they discuss them, then they go around in circles,” said Bonifacio Rojas, 40, a Mexican hat seller.

“Mexico will be stuck,” he said.

The uncertainty hovering over the country’s future was expected to draw out as late as tomorrow, when the IFE will announce the final official results of the count. The institute appeared intent on ensuring a transparent election after years of corrupt votes.

Businessmen were already celebrating a Calderon victory.

“Calderon no doubt won the elections,” said Dr. Jorge Cervantes, just minutes before he was due in the operating room yesterday.

The Mexican stock market appeared to agree, with a healthy 4.77 percent jump yesterday.

“The fact that Calderon is now the most likely winner is a positive for the market,” Alberto Bernal, an economist at Bear Stearns, told the Reuters news agency.

“The bad news is that the election will be contested. I have absolutely no doubt about it,” he said.

Dr. Cervantes said if Mr. Lopez Obrador were not declared the winner that his supporters could take to the streets in protest, but the violence would be minimal.

Most Mexicans agree that the next president will have to work hard to build political bridges in order to push through necessary economic and judicial reforms.

Enrique Pena Nieto, the governor of the nation’s wealthy Mexico state, which boasts considerable foreign investment, said neither candidate would be able to govern without a policy of political conciliation and consensus.

“I believe whoever wins may give some political positions to the other party in order to have a coalition government,” he said, shrugging off rumors of unrest on the streets.

“I don’t believe there will be violence. There may be some protests, but that will not be the first time,” said Mr. Pena Nieto, adding that the financial “markets have reacted positively.”

“They have left fear behind,” he said. “By Wednesday, there will be a winner, and the country will go back to normal.”

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