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The State of the Nation? More Protests Expected

Times Staff Writer

As President Vicente Fox prepares to deliver his final state of the nation address today, Mexico remains divided over who should be declared his successor, and many fear an escalation in unrest by protesters who feel betrayed by the electoral institutions Fox is expected to applaud in his speech.

Federal and state police Thursday erected 9-foot-tall metal barricades to block streets surrounding the congressional hall where Fox will address lawmakers and the nation. Authorities hope the barriers, as well as the presence of riot police, armored vehicles and water cannons, will deter protesters who allege that the July 2 election was stolen by Fox’s conservative National Action Party, or PAN.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the charismatic leftist who finished less than 1 percentage point, or about 240,000 votes, behind PAN candidate Felipe Calderon, has promised that September will be a month of nonviolent revolution.

Lopez Obrador has told supporters he will accompany them to the site of Fox’s speech tonight. He also has declared he will hold a national convention on Mexico City’s central square Sept. 16, Mexico’s Independence Day, with the idea of creating a parallel government. Army units on that day traditionally march through the central square, known as the Zocalo.

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Most analysts expect the nation’s Federal Electoral Tribunal to declare Calderon the new president by Wednesday, the court’s constitutional deadline. And most think Lopez Obrador will step up protests rather than accept a Calderon victory.

“I am the president of Mexico,” Lopez Obrador has declared many times since the election.

The theme of his aggressive post-election campaign, which argues that a recount of every vote would reveal his victory and widespread fraud on Calderon’s behalf, is supported by at least a third of Mexicans, polls show.

He draws support to his Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, from those who think there should be more government help for the poor and working class through direct subsidies, large public works projects and lower electricity and gasoline prices.

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The 52-year-old former mayor of Mexico City has lost every round in his fight for a full recount. The tribunal’s judges chose to examine ballot challenges in 9% of the polling stations, and declared this week that they found thousands of mistakes but no evidence of fraud, making it likely Calderon would be declared the winner. The judges have the sole power to ratify or annul the election.

Lopez Obrador and his lawyers have presented two main allegations:

First, that Fox and his allies illegally supported Calderon during the six-month election campaign through, for example, the many public service announcements aired by Fox touting the accomplishments of his PAN government and a barrage of last-minute attack ads sponsored by big business. The tribunal has yet to rule on those challenges, which are grounds for annulment.

Lopez Obrador also alleges that ballot-stuffing and other cheating added votes to Calderon’s tally. The tribunal, in its review of recounts at 11,839 polling stations, said it found no evidence of such fraud. Calderon lost 4,183 votes after the judges’ examination, largely because of arithmetic errors and procedural mistakes.

As Lopez Obrador and his supporters ridicule the tribunal’s conclusions, Fox and his government have tried to bolster its image, as well as that of the Federal Electoral Institute, which organized and ran the election. One government-sponsored television commercial shows a woman telling the camera, “I defend the tribunal, because the tribunal defends my vote.”

Fox’s election in 2000 broke seven decades of single-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, whose candidate finished third, and Mexico has taken pride since the mid-1990s in cleaning up elections, once a grim joke.

The July election, Fox has said, was won fair and square by Calderon. The two men share a belief in Mexico’s increasingly open-market economy that they say will create more jobs from expanded investment.

Calderon, who turned 44 this month, declined Fox’s invitation to attend the state of the nation address, known here as el informe. The former Fox energy minister and presumed presidential winner spends his days meeting with sympathetic groups and calling for reconciliation among the warring political sides.

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Fox will address a newly elected Mexican Congress, in which fellow PAN members make up the largest bloc. They won 206 seats in the 500-member lower house and 52 seats in the 128-member Senate, according to congressional election results ratified by the tribunal this week.

Lopez Obrador’s PRD nearly doubled its number of congressional delegates with 126 seats in the lower house and 29 in the Senate. The PRI lost ground. It will hold 104 lower-house seats and 33 in the Senate.

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sam.enriquez@latimes.com

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Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.


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