- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 6, 2006

MEXICO CITY — The ruling party’s Felipe Calderon won the official count in Mexico’s disputed presidential race yesterday, a come-from-behind victory for the Harvard-educated technocrat. But his leftist rival refused to concede and said he would fight the results in court.

Mr. Calderon, a conservative who preached free-market economic development and financial stability during the campaign, was reaching out to other parties to build a “unity government.”

His main opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, blamed fraud for his narrow loss in the vote count and called on his supporters to fill Mexico City’s main square tomorrow in a show of force.

With all of the 41 million votes counted, Mr. Calderon, of President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party, had 35.88 percent of the vote to 35.31 percent for Mr. Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution. The two were separated by about 220,000 votes.

Roberto Madrazo, whose Institutional Revolutionary Party controlled Mexico for 71 years until Mr. Fox’s victory in 2000, had 22.27 percent, and two minor candidates split the rest.

Once the count is complete, challenges go before the country’s top electoral court. A winner must be declared by Sept. 6. The next president begins a single, six-year term on Dec. 1.

Mexican stocks opened higher and the peso rebounded yesterday with the news of Mr. Calderon’s apparent victory, but many obstacles remain in his path.

If Mr. Calderon’s victory is upheld by electoral courts, he will face a Congress dominated by opposition parties, as well as a divided nation that sends millions of people north to work in the United States illegally.

President Bush’s deployment of National Guard troops to the border has increased tensions in Mexico, as has a U.S. congressional proposal to extend walls along the border.

Mr. Calderon wants to rely on Mexico’s many free-trade accords to create jobs and crack down on rising crime, and he says he will try to smooth U.S. relations without letting Washington dominate.

“I want to establish a very constructive relationship without bowing my head and lowering my eyes to the Americans,” Mr. Calderon told the Associated Press.

“I have met with President Bush several times. I have interviewed with President Bush and several members of the American Congress, and I know it’s possible to establish a more constructive relationship, and that would be very good for both countries.”

Addressing hundreds of cheering supporters before dawn yesterday, he called on Mexicans to move beyond the bitter campaign and “begin a new era of peace, of reconciliation.”

He reached out to the millions of people who voted against him, asking for a “chance to win your confidence.”

For months, Mr. Lopez Obrador had been the easy front-runner in the race, promising to govern for the poor and initiate big public works projects. But he slipped in the polls after he refused to take part in the first of two televised debates, and never quite recovered.

“It was Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s election to lose, and he lost,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

The former Mexico City mayor said yesterday that widespread fraud — not campaign missteps — cost him the election, and he called on his supporters to gather tomorrow for an “informational assembly.”

“We are always going to act in a responsible manner, but at the same time, we have to defend the citizens’ will,” he said.

He denounced election officials for proceeding with an official count of poll workers’ vote tallies, as required by election law, and ignoring his demand for a ballot-by-ballot review.

“We are going to the Federal Electoral Tribunal with the same demand — that the votes be counted — because we cannot accept these results,” Mr. Lopez Obrador said.

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