Mexican Election Limbo Heightens Risk of Instability

By Monisha Bansal | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

( - Mexico's still-unresolved presidential election threatens the sharply divided country with instability, according to a Latin American expert from American University in Washington, D.C.

Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the narrow loser in the July 2 election, has asked Mexico's Federal Electoral Tribunal to order a full recount of the nation's 41 million ballots. And without a recount, conservative candidate Felipe Calderon may find it difficult to govern, said Emilio Viano from American University.

"There will be a perceived lack of legitimacy," he said. "[Calderon's] majority is razor thin, and his government will be very weak if it doesn't get the support of Lopez Obrador and his party."

Viano is not optimistic about attempts to quell the controversy. "It doesn't bode well for the future of Mexican politics, because there will be a lot of instability, resentment, maybe boycotts, and even sabotage of the government initiatives," he said.

On Sunday, more than a million protesters cheered Obrador and demanded a "vote by vote, precinct by precinct" recount of every ballot, and "peaceful civil resistance" until that is achieved.

This was the second protest Obrador held in Mexico City's main square, Plaza Zocalo, with another planned for July 30. "Not only do we fight for the recognition of our legitimate victory in the presidential election, but for a greater cause, that of validating democracy in our country," Obrador told the protesters.

Obrador claims that Calderon's 0.5 percent margin of victory is due to election fraud and the support of Calderon by the current conservative administration of Vicente Fox.

"I am absolutely certain that, if the votes are recounted, it will be shown that we won clean, legally, and legitimately in the July 2 elections," Obrador told his supporters.

The free-trade backing Calderon has said he will support a recount if the Federal Election Tribunal calls for one.

But Viano said a full recount "is highly unlikely because of the enormous amount of effort that that would require." He noted that most Mexicans and the international election overseers believe that "by and large the vote was quite clean."

"I doubt that [Obrador] will succeed in getting a total recount, vote by vote, as he is requesting," Viano told Cybercast News Service.

But Teresa Carrillo a professor in the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University said, "I am very encouraged by what's happening in Mexico right now."

Carrillo said she hopes Mexico will have a recount. "Fifty percent of the population is suspicious and doubtful of the outcome, and that's too much. If the recount is not done, those suspicions are just going to fester."

She said it will also be a good test of the country's stability. "It's a huge test of these new, very young democratic institutions in Mexico. They are being tested to the max with this election. It couldn't have been closer," Carrillo told Cybercast News Service.

"There is evidence that there was electoral fraud in the first counting of the votes. My suspicion is that if they did do a recount, it could possibly change the outcome of the election."

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