Mexico's Apparent President-Elect Plans Victory Tour
MEXICO CITY – Mexico's presumptive president-elect began forming his transition team Tuesday and announced plans for a victory tour through Mexico, while his opponent finished filing a legal challenge alleging a fraudulent election.
With both ruling-party candidate Felipe Calderon and his leftist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, claiming they won the closest presidential race in Mexican history, the struggle for the hearts and minds of the country stretched from foreign embassies to dueling news conferences.
The official vote count last week gave Calderon the victory with a 0.6 percent margin over Lopez Obrador in the July 2 election.
Calderon on Tuesday asked campaign director Josefina Vazquez Mota to reach out to other political parties and help build a coalition government. He said that Vazquez Mota's deputy, Juan Camilo Mourino, would head his transition team.
"We have begun working toward the transition between the administration headed by President Vicente Fox and the administration I will have the honor of leading starting Dec. 1," Calderon said.
Lopez Obrador quickly criticized Calderon's move.
"It's like trying to say, 'It's all over, I declare myself president,' completely illegally."
Calderon said he had spoken with governors from most of Mexico's 31 states following the disputed election. He said his National Action Party would finance his nationwide tour to build unity after the divisive results, which split Mexico between the poor south and the industrialized north.
He shrugged off fears his presence could provoke a violent reaction in Lopez Obrador strongholds.
"I will tour the country, first in my role as winner of the election, which I won in part because of the votes of those states in the south," said Calderon, who spoke in front of a newly designed presidential-style logo featuring his name and the red-white-and-green of Mexico's flag. "I will build a climate of reconciliation."
Lopez Obrador said his supporters would begin marching on the capital Wednesday to demand a manual, ballot-by-ballot recount. He said they will join up for a huge march in Mexico City on Sunday.
Meanwhile, his legal team finished handing over boxes of videos, documents and recordings that it said showed that fraud and illegal campaigning had given Calderon a razor-thin advantage of fewer than 244,000 votes.
Lopez Obrador presented a video Monday of a man allegedly stuffing a ballot box with votes. But electoral authorities said the tape actually showed a poll worker redepositing votes that had been placed in the incorrect box.
Lopez Obrador campaign adviser Manuel Camacho Solis conceded the party should have been more careful in screening its evidence of fraud.
Lopez Obrador, meanwhile, claimed some of his party's poll watchers failed to catch or denounce fraud because they were bought off by his opponent.
"Not all of our poll watchers acted ethically," he said. "We have evidence that some of our representatives were offered money."
He also presented two more videos, one showing what he claimed was authorities illegally opening a ballot box. The other showed electoral officials examining ballots that had been previously voided, most of them for Lopez Obrador, before finally determining they were legitimate votes.
The leftist candidate's supporters also sent representatives to foreign embassies in Mexico City, warning them against congratulating Calderon.
"They are using foreign embassies in an illegal way, by lobbying them, convincing foreign governments to recognize" Calderon, said Lopez Obrador.
He also criticized foreign observers who described the elections as clean.
"They observed, but they didn't see," Lopez Obrador told reporters.
The presidents of El Salvador and Panama congratulated Calderon on Tuesday and he said he spoke at length with Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, California. Leaders around the world, including U.S. President George W. Bush, have congratulated Calderon, even though the Federal Electoral Tribunal must rule on appeals of election irregularities before declaring a president-elect.
A decision must come before Sept. 6. The tribunal has overturned gubernatorial elections in the past because the state's ruling party allegedly interfered.
Mexican presidents are limited by the constitution to one six-year term. Fox will step down on Dec. 1.
Calderon said National Action lawyers were ready to "face any and every challenge" to the election results.
Lopez Obrador supporters have plastered homes throughout Mexico City with banners, bumper stickers and posters proclaiming, "No to fraud! Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is president." E-mails also call on people to flood the electoral court's Web site with messages demanding a ballot-by-ballot, manual recount.
Many in the capital follow the former Mexico City mayor with near religious zeal. Some left lit votive candles for him on their window ledges, a practice normally reserved for saints.
"The people have no doubt, the president is Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador," said retired waiter Carlos Manuel Ruiz Galeana, 72, as he surveyed the votive offerings and scrawled, hand-lettered signs of support taped outside the leftist's campaign headquarters.