In Mexico, defeated candidate defies right wing

MEXICO CITY — Eight months after having an election apparently stolen from him through fraud, former presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and his supporters refuse to concede defeat.

Critics of the July 2006 presidential vote charge that election authorities tampered with ballot boxes and used rigged computer software to ensure that right-wing National Action Party candidate Felipe Calderon, an ally of the Bush administration, won the race by a razor-thin margin.

Lopez Obrador, the popular former governor of the Federal District, which encompasses Mexico City, argues that a vote tally undertaken by his own electoral coalition, combined with the government’s refusal to do a full recount, proves he won the election.

Last November, a million delegates representing voters across the country assembled in Mexico City’s main square, the Zocalo, and declared Lopez Obrador president. Since then, Lopez Obrador has formed his own parallel government, which functions more as a political movement that organizes ongoing resistance against the Calderon administration.

Calderon was sworn in last December, but millions of Lopez Obrador’s supporters believe his accession to power was illegitimate.

Lopez Obrador recently said he has “recovered 100 percent” from impact of the fraud that led to his electoral loss.

“I am very strong,” he said. At the same time, “all that has happened has been very difficult and painful,” especially for those who come from the poorest segments of Mexican society. “But we have to continue fighting for democracy — that is a matter of survival.”

Crisscrossing the dusty, lonely highways of Mexico, Lopez Obrador maintains a busy speaking schedule addressing crowds in the smallest villages and the largest cities. He denounces Calderon and invites people to become representatives of his “legitimate government” and to hold the Calderon government accountable.

He remains adamant that he will continue resisting the right-wing, “free market” policies that the Calderon government intends to impose on Mexico. Such policies include privatization of state assets and subservience to international lending institutions.

The political movement that Lopez Obrador leads is active throughout the country. It mobilized for another “National Democratic Convention” March 21-25 in Mexico City. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against Calderon here on March 8.

The former presidential candidate’s center-left electoral coalition For the Good of All — consisting of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), the Convergencia and the Workers Party — has transformed itself into the Broad Progressive Front and is now the second largest political force in the National Assembly and Senate. Its deputies and senators are fighting Calderon’s plans to privatize highways and the national oil company Pemex. They have also successfully championed legislation to scale back outrageous monthly pensions and salaries given to ex-presidents and some civil servants.

However, it is evident that the political momentum of Lopez Obrador and his movement has slowed. The weekly car caravans and demonstrations across the country that occurred after the July elections have almost ceased. Signs and graffiti denouncing the vote fraud, which once adorned buildings and utility poles everywhere, are now difficult to find. And a consumer boycott of pro-Calderon businesses has fizzled.

According to Olga Rivera, an economics professor at Universal University and a PRD member, there are divisions within the movement over what should be done next. “The radical wing wants stronger action on the streets, while the other wing wants to focus efforts on fighting the Calderon government in elected bodies,” she said. “The problem is that people are tired of taking to the streets.”

tpelzer @ shaw.ca