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Winner declared in Mexico election

Published September 6, 2006

Mexico's electoral court Tuesday declared conservative politician Felipe Calderon the country's president-elect, ending a two-month legal dispute over allegations of fraud.

The unanimous decision by a seven-judge tribunal clears the path for Calderon to be sworn in Dec 1. But, unlike the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that resolved the bitter 2000 presidential election, analysts say the tribunal's decision may not be enough to calm Mexico's political turmoil.

In contrast to Al Gore's acceptance of defeat, Mexico's losing candidate, left-winger Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has vowed to defy the ruling and has promised to make Mexico ungovernable.

His supporters wept outside the court when news broke of the decision. The courthouse shook as protestors set off fireworks outside, according to witnesses.

Lopez Obrador's opposition Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) says that voting conditions were unfair due to meddling by the ruling party and its big business friends.

Several tribunal members conceded that there had been some electoral interference by the ruling National Action Party (PAN), but said it did not warrant overturning the result.

"There are no perfect elections," Judge Alfonsina Berta Navarro Hidalgo said.

The tribunal confirmed Calderon's narrow victory by 233,831 votes out of 41.6-million cast - a margin of less than 1 percent. The tribunal's decision cannot be appealed.

Supporters of the tribunal's decision say the judges had little alternative but to uphold the election results as the PRD failed to produce any concrete evidence of fraud.

However, some analysts lamented the tribunal's decision, arguing that the only way to deal with the widespread public perception of fraud was to order a total recount.

"Unfortunately, these elections have only eroded Mexican confidence in the electoral process," said Maureen Meyer of the Washington Office on Latin America, a left-leaning watchdog group.

Some observers worry about the negative economic effects of continued political uncertainty. Mexico is Washington's third-largest trading partner and the eighth-leading petroleum producer in the world.

But the country's stock market and Mexico's peso have weathered the crisis surprisingly well. Analysts point out that most of the disruption is in the capital.

Despite his threats to bring the country to a standstill, analysts expect Lopez Obrador to stop short of provoking an escalation.

"He has his fist to the tip of the nose of the government, but he's not going to do anything violent," said George W. Grayson, a Mexico scholar at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Eager to avoid any kind of provocation, the government has largely left the streets to the protesters. PAN officials have privately banked on a belief that the PRD's tactics would backfire by angering the public.

Public support for Lopez Obrador has indeed waned in recent weeks. Lopez Obrador's campaign of civil disobedience alienated many in the capital when his followers began blocking major intersections, snarling traffic. A recent poll by the conservative newspaper, Reforma, indicated that if the election were held now, Calderon would beat Lopez Obrador by 19 points.

The next major test will be Sept. 16, Mexico's Independence Day, when the president makes a traditional appearance on a balcony overlooking the capital's historic central plaza, known as the Zocalo. That is followed by a large military parade down Reforma Avenue. However, during the last few weeks the Zocalo and Reforma Avenue have become the center of Lopez Obrador's protest movement, permanently occupied by his supporters in tents.

Rather than face the prospect of a violent showdown, analysts expect both sides to reach a deal to allow the independence celebrations to take place.

It remains unclear what Lopez Obrador will do next. He has announced a "national convention" of his supporters Sept. 16 to decide if he should declare himself head of a parallel government. Another, perhaps more likely option, is that he declare himself the head of a national protest movement on behalf of the poor.

Even though he may have failed in his quest to overturn the election result, Lopez Obrador may have gone some way to achieving his social goal. To restore calm, analysts expect PAN to introduce an ambitious social program to meet some of the popular demands.

"President-elect Calderon has committed himself to a profound effort to end the poverty and the social injustice that has no place in a modern Mexico," said Arturo Sarukhan of Calderon's transition team.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified September 6, 2006, 06:00:32]

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