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Mexico Election Recount Goes Down to the Wire


Four days after Mexico's presidential election there's still no clear winner. With 98 percent of the votes recounted, the conservative candidate Felipe Calderon has retaken the lead by a razor-thin margin over former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Sunday's election was the most competitive in Mexico's history, and it has polarized the country like no other.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins me now from Mexico City.

Lourdes, what is going on? Yesterday, Lopez Obrador had taken a slight lead, now Calderon is ahead?


Well, you know, dramatic, tumultuous, you can bring out the use of almost every single adjective for this election. All throughout the day, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had a tiny lead over his rival, Felipe Calderon, as the official tallies came in. Now, in the last few hours, Calderon has overtaken Lopez Obrador.

Let me stress, the margin of victory here is so small. This is such a tight race. It seems this last-minute reversal has happened because results from places where Felipe Calderon had a lot of support came in last: the north of the country, for example. It seems the party of Lopez Obrador was contesting the count in those areas, which caused a delay in the final tallies being sent in.

NEARY: And, of course, this election is pitting an avowed leftist against a strong conservative. As you said, it's tumultuous. What is the atmosphere there, how are people reacting to what's going on?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my God, this is the closest presidential race in Mexican history. People are extremely divided here, and this process of finding a winner has polarized, I think, the country even more.

You couldn't have two leaders who are more different. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador says that the poor must come first. He wants to create vast public works projects to give them jobs if he becomes president. Felipe Calderon is a Harvard-educated technocrat who believes in free market policies. The two candidates don't seem to like each other very much, and they've been slinging insults throughout the campaign. And each of their respective supporters are pretty hostile to each other too, so it's set up a really contentious atmosphere here in Mexico.

NEARY: It also sounds like no matter what the final results are that they're going to be challenged.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know, Lopez Obrador has charged fraud already, earlier in the day. He wants a full recount of all the votes cast.

Today - rather yesterday, they only counted ballots from contested ballot boxes. So there had to be some discrepancy in the tally sheets or the boxes had to appear to have been tampered with in some way in order for the ballots to be looked at individually. Mexico's election authority has already said that the law does not allow for a full recount of every single vote cast.

You know, there were incidents today at most, if not all of the 300 district level election offices, where the count has been taking place. Disputed boxes were opened, and there were indeed discrepancies, and I think that's going to provide the leftist candidate with grist for a legal challenge.

So what happens now is that the parties have four days to lodge any complaints once the final certified results come in. There is an election tribunal that arbitrates any disputes. It's kind of supreme court for any election disputes. And they have until September 6th to declare the winner. Their judgment is final.

NEARY: So it's going to take awhile before anybody really knows who the next president of Mexico is going to be.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think that is probably very, very likely.

NEARY: All right. Thanks very much for talking with us, Lourdes.


NEARY: NPR'S Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
Lynn Neary is an NPR arts correspondent covering books and publishing.

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