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4 December 2006

A tale of two presidents

Mexico - Felipe Calderón and Andrés Manuel López Obrador

By Sarah Tisdall

Troops paraded through Mexico City on the day Andrés Manuel ópez Obrador was declared the country’s “legitimate president”.They were not from Mexico’s modern army, but volunteers re-enacting the triumphant march into the city by Emiliano Zapata and Francisco “Pancho” Villa, four years after the start of the 1910 revolution.

Those earlier rebels overthrew the dictator Victoriano Huerta in a decade-long political upheaval. ópez Obrador hopes the street protests he has led since the presidential election on 2 July – which he says was stolen by his opponent from the governing National Action Party (PAN) – will result in a similar, though less bloody, regime change.

His left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) rests its claim on Article 39 of the constitution, which says sovereignty resides with the people and gives them the right to change the form of government at any time. ópez Obrador’s claim is the fourth such attempt since 1910.

This time, Felipe Calderón, the chosen successor to President Vicente Fox Quesada, was declared the winner with a margin of just 234,000 votes, 0.56 per cent of the total. Even the electoral commission admits that there were irregularities, though too small to make a difference and too hard to quantify. A survey by De la Riva Strategic Research found that 43 per cent of Mexicans thought the vote rigged; 56 per cent wanted a full recount.

ópez Obrador is hugely popular in Mexico City, where he used to be mayor. There was an attempt to bar him from standing for the presidency last year, but it failed after street protests in the capital. More than a million people are estimated to have come to the Zócalo, the city’s central square, to see him “sworn in” on 20 November and hear his 20-point plan to defend the poor.

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Due in part to negative press coverage of the street protest, support for ópez Obrador has started to slip. PRD members of the chamber of deputies and the senate vowed to disrupt the inauguration of his rival on 1 December, but some are said to be ready to work with Calderón.