Civil Society, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: The Left Takes to the Streets

Adrián Reyes

MEXICO CITY, Jul 31 2006 (IPS) - While analysts warn of the risk of social upheaval in Mexico if the authorities confirm conservative candidate Felipe Calderón as president-elect, thousands of supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador launched a civil resistance campaign Monday to demand a vote-by-vote recount.

Members of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and smaller allied parties are occupying Mexico City’s central Zócalo square and set up camps that are blocking traffic along Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main boulevard, protesting what they believe was fraud committed in favour of Calderón, the candidate of the right-wing governing National Action Party (PAN).

After the Jul. 2 elections, the Federal Electoral Court (IFE) announced that Calderón defeated López Obrador by a margin of just 0.58 percent. However, it is now examining complaints of fraud, and has until Sept. 6 to declare a president-elect, order a recount, or annul the elections.

Testifying before IFE on Sunday, Calderón urged it to “validate what the people have already validated, and to declare president the candidate who already won,” he said afterwards. “Failing to do so would be to break the law,” said the candidate, who criticised his rival, saying “elections are not won through street demonstrations.”

He was referring to the tens or hundreds of thousands of demonstrators from around the country who gathered Sunday in the Zócalo, the main square in the capital, for López Obrador’s third “people’s assembly”.

Estimates of the size of the demonstration varied wildly, from two million (as reported by authorities in the PRD-governed Mexico City) to 180,000 (according to the national government of President Vicente Fox, which until now had refrained from releasing estimates of the number of people taking part in street protests).

Analyst Jorge Zepeda Patterson told IPS that the three “people’s assemblies” called by López Obrador have drawn increasingly large numbers of people, which he said shows that a significant portion of the population harbours doubts as to the transparency of the elections, and sees a vote-by-vote recount as the only solution that could leave everyone satisfied.

Silvia Alonso, of the independent Civic Alliance, told IPS that the electoral court should act without pressure, and the presidential candidates should wait for the ruling. But she also said that because the next president must be legitimised and people must feel certain that the elections were fair, she is in favour of a recount, in order to eliminate any lingering suspicions of fraud.

Political and financial analyst Macario Schettino warned that the roadblocks in Mexico City could irritate local residents, including many who voted for López Obrador, and might even trigger clashes between ordinary people.

Schettino said that by calling on his supporters to block streets in the capital to pressure IFE to order a recount, the leftist leader was showing his most negative, authoritarian and arrogant, side.

Former city election official Eduardo Huchim, meanwhile, said that while López Obrador has been accused of instigating violence, there were no incidents in the three people’s assemblies called by the candidate since the elections, and the candidate has not urged his supporters to break the law.

Nevertheless, the traffic blockades could hurt support for López Obrador by affecting the lives of people trying to get to work or school on time.

For its part, the Catholic Church began to hold special prayer sessions Monday in which the faithful around the country have been invited to pray for reconciliation and peace.

Francisco Robles, archbishop of the city of Monterrey, in the northern state of Nuevo León, said that “no matter how big the march or demonstration, it cannot replace the will that the citizens have expressed through the ballot boxes.”

Cardinal Norberto Rivera called on churchgoers nationwide to gather in the Basilica of Guadalupe next Sunday to pray for reconciliation.

Referring to the roadblocks and demonstrations, Gerardo Trejo, the president of the COPARMEX association of business owners in Mexico City, urged Mayor Alejandro Encinas to enforce the law or step down.

In a statement to the mayor, Trejo said “We are very concerned about your obvious support for these protests. If you are not willing to fulfil your duty to govern, you should immediately leave your post.”

The Mexico City Chamber of Commerce also complained that the demonstrations, rallies and traffic blockades are causing enormous losses for shops in the historic centre of the city.

Carlos Gelista, president of the Mexico City chapter of the PAN, told IPS that the demonstrations called by López Obrador could spark confrontations among local residents.

But in response to such assertions, lawmaker Horacio Duarte, representative of the PRD before IFE, told IPS that the rallies and protests organised by López Obrador are nothing like those held by the PAN in 1988, when Fox, who was then seeking the post of governor in the central state of Guanajuato, and his followers blocked federal highways and occupied the state airport.

PRD spokesman Gerardo Fernández rebutted allegations that the current civil resistance campaign was a prelude to violence.

“We have no plans to use violence. We are simply asking for a recount of the votes, and there will be more peaceful acts of civil resistance, which could include a refusal by our legislators-elect to take office,” he said.

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