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Last Updated: Monday, 14 August 2006, 00:30 GMT 01:30 UK
Mexico challenger senses history
By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Mexico City

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
Mr Lopez Obrador has maintained a high post-election profile
"A historic moment."

Those were the words of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, taking the opportunity, yet again, to cast Mexico's contested presidential contest in apocalyptic terms.

He used them on Sunday at the latest of his mass rallies.

And, standing amongst his supporters, I sensed that many here agree with him. Perhaps even his opponents.

Since 2 July, when the presidential election was held, Mexico has lurched its way through an acrimonious and divisive political crisis.

Why? Well, the election produced a victor, but it was not Mr Lopez Obrador.

And he is doing his best to change that result in a monumental battle for the future of this infant multi-party democracy.

He says he is the victim of mass fraud at the ballot box.

He told the crowd: "We will not allow an illegitimate and illegal government to be installed in our country."

They loved it because they believed him. Mr Lopez Obrador and his supporters want all the votes recounted, not just the sample that has just been looked at again in recent days.

Their chant was deafening: "Vote by vote, polling station by polling station."

Resistance

Many of the tens of thousands of supporters who turned up to hear Mr Lopez Obrador speak did not have far to travel.

Pro-Obrador protester
Supporters of the leftist candidate are determined to protest
The central square in Mexico City and the surrounding roads have become a tent city in the past few weeks, crowded with protestors taking their message out on the street.

Banks, government buildings and hotels have all been blockaded - symbols, say those involved, of the institutions that have kept the majority of Mexican people in poverty and out of government.

They are symbols that Mr Lopez Obrador also stands against.

It is democracy in action, and it is putting much of the capital city out of action.

The movement has a permanency that Mr Lopez Obrador does nothing to discourage.

At his rally some of the biggest cheers came when he said: "We are prepared to resist for as long as necessary and we could be here for years if the circumstances merit it".

Imagine Trafalgar Square in London or Time Square in New York blocked for weeks on end and you can imagine the scale of this mass resistance.

Struggle

Throughout all of this there is another key player in this drama - the man who, according to the official count, won the election: the conservative Felipe Calderon.

But he is rarely seen. He has said the election was clean and that a total recount is not necessary.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador greets supporters
Mr Lopez Obrador himself has encouraged supporters to protest
It is a strategy of careful detachment. Perhaps he is hoping for the street protests to run out of steam, to exhaust themselves in a draining and ultimately futile battle of wills.

Mr Calderon may want to appear more statesmanlike. But he is not there yet.

He won by 244,000 votes. Quite a margin, you might think.

But there are some here who believe that if the findings of the partial recount reveal significant irregularities and/or Mr Lopez Obrador closes the gap substantially by a legitimate re-examination of the ballot papers, then the electoral authorities may yet yield to his demand for a wider recount.

Possibly even of all 41 million votes.

But it is a long shot for Mr Lopez Obrador, and he is already speaking of organising a demonstration against Mr Calderon's presidential inauguration ceremony in November.

That is a sign, perhaps, that he believes Mr Calderon may yet be declared Mexico's new president by the 6 September deadline.

Whatever happens, some have likened this whole experience to Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

This time the colours are not orange but the yellow of Mr Lopez Obrador's PRD party.

And while this may not yet be a revolution, a struggle is certainly under way. Mexico's future is not yet set in stone.


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