Leftist Obrador Vows to Build His Own Government in Mexico

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has given up efforts to have himself declared winner of the July 2 presidential race, but he still plans to build a parallel government that will cater to the poor and keep alive his fight against President-elect Felipe Calderon, his party spokesman said Friday.

Since Mexico's top electoral court rejected Lopez Obrador's allegations of widespread fraud, he has focused on a Sept. 16 convention in which supporters will declare him the leader of resistance government that will refuse to recognize Calderon and block him at every step, including his Dec. 1 inauguration.

"We are not going to let him take office," said Gerardo Fernandez, the spokesman for Lopez Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. "I don't see the usurper government ... lasting for six years."

Fernandez said the parallel government will fight for recognition in international forums and launch street protests against free trade reforms and privatizations of government enterprises. It will also set up a still-unspecified capital, form a Cabinet and set policy.

CountryWatch: Mexico

Some followers have urged Lopez Obrador to set up a treasury and have followers pay taxes to him, but Fernandez said there were no plans to do that, apparently to avoid legal problems.

Lopez Obrador plans his own inauguration, complete with a presidential sash presented by his supporters. He has warned followers that such moves may draw ridicule, telling them: "They will make fun of us."

He has also drawn criticism for comparing himself to national heroes like Benito Juarez, who lead a parallel government during the 1862-67 French invasion.

Though the French-backed Emperor Maximilian controlled the country, Juarez maintained a wandering resistance government until his forces were able to expel the invaders.

Many see the comparison as ridiculous because Calderon won what most observers called a fair election.

"What are we supposed to do with a crazy man who wants the whole country to capitulate to his whims?" wrote columnist Enrique Canales in the newspaper El Universal.

Others think it's not so crazy. Timed to coincide with Mexico's Independence Day, the convention is modeled on similar events convened near the end of the 1910-17 Revolution to end the chaos and create a government and a constitution.

"It's a very savvy use of political symbols," political scientist Federico Estevez said.

Lopez Obrador has irritated many with a monthlong, traffic-snarling blockade of Mexico City's main downtown boulevard. The convention on Sept. 16th will decide whether to pull up the sprawling protest camps.

Some of Lopez Obrador's aides have expressed hope Mexico will follow the example of Bolivia, where protests toppled a series of presidents, ushering in the election of leftist Evo Morales.

The main question is how long Lopez Obrador can keep mobilizing his followers. His actions have already alienated many and hurt the PRD. The same election Lopez Obrador terms fraudulent was the most successful ever for his party, making it the largest opposition force in Congress.

His call to ignore the federal government as illegitimate also poses a dilemma for PRD state and city governments, which depend heavily on funds from what Lopez Obrador calls "the regime of corruption and privileges."

One of three parties in Lopez Obrador's coalition, the tiny Convergence party, has started abandoning the movement's more radical positions.

For the moment, moderates in the PRD are "sort of stuck" because they can't afford to challenge Lopez Obrador's immense influence in the party, Estevez said. But the convention could help the party distance itself from it's former presidential candidate by creating a separate vehicle for Lopez Obrador.

There were also questions about how democratic the convention would be. Fernandez said the it would operate on a show of hands, instead of taking formal votes.

Lopez Obrador claims over 1 million "delegates" will attend in Mexico City's main Zocalo plaza, but the square only holds about 100,000, and perhaps 50,000 more can be squeezed onto adjoining streets.

It's not clear how much real debate there will be. The convention's Web site contains only one proposal, that of Lopez Obrador. And even many of his supporters oppose his suggestion that he be named "legitimate president."

"I would think it would be better to name him 'leader of the resistance,"' said student Emanuel Perez, 20. He said getting people to take the movement seriously "is going to be difficult."