MEXICO CITY – The president of Mexico's top electoral court on Saturday recommended rejecting the leftist party's request for a ballot-by-ballot recount in the July 2 presidential vote, which has been disputed, prompting thousands of activists to set up protest camps in the heart of the capital.
In a statement read during the Federal Electoral Tribunal's first public session on the election, Leonel Castillo left open the possibility the court will order a partial recount. The tribunal's seven magistrates were expected to vote later Saturday on Castillo's recommendation.
If they reject a full recount, it will likely anger millions of supporters of leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has said a ballot-by-ballot recount is the only way to restore faith in Mexico's electoral system. The thousands or protesters are demanding a full recount they claim will show Lopez Obrador was the race's true winner.
Official tallies gave ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon, a former energy secretary, an advantage of less than 0.6 percent, or about 240,000 votes, out of more than 41 million cast.
The tribunal has until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect or annul the elections.
On Saturday a group of protesters who have set up camp outside waited anxiously for the tribunal's decision. Among them was an activist known as Little Ray of Hope, dressed head-to-toe in a skintight, yellow professional wrestler's costume and standing in front of a black coffin labeled "democracy."
A re-count "would be the healthiest option for the country's political atmosphere," he said. "The country would return to normal."
Supporters of Lopez Obrador have seized control of Mexico City's cultural and financial heart, setting up protest camps on the elegant Reforma Avenue and in the city's main Zocalo plaza, snarling traffic for nearly a week.
Braving nearly nightly rainstorms and even flooding, they say they won't leave until the tribunal rules on their demands for a recount.
Gerardo Fernandez, a spokesman for Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, warned against a partial recount, arguing that a full recount was the only way to put an end to allegations of fraud and questions about the country's electoral system.
Calderon says he believes the elections were clean and fair, and argues that a recount would violate a Mexican law that allows polling place results to be reopened only when there is evidence of irregularities.
Lopez Obrador's party won a small victory Monday when the tribunal voted unanimously to consider a possible recount.
But it dealt an apparent blow to the candidate's "shotgun" strategy of citing thousands of irregularities at the 130,000 polling places, saying it would not roll all the legal challenges into a single case, but would consider each on its own merits.
The tribunal is considered highly independent, and its judges are among the highest-paid officials in the country to avoid the temptations of bribery. It has made tough decisions in the past, ruling against all three major parties.
But the magistrates have yet to face a challenge like this — the closest presidential contest in Mexican history, that divided the nation along class and social lines.
Lopez Obrador has promised to govern for the poor, while Calderon has the backing of the nation's growing middle and elite classes, many of whom want to protect the new homes and cars they have been able to purchase with falling interest rates.
"Let's see if the judges decide in favor of the people or the powerful," Little Ray of Hope said.