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Victor of Mexican Presidential Race Decided by Slim Margin

By James C. Mckinley Jr.
and Ginger Thompson
THE NEW YORK TIMES


MEXICO CITY

After days of uncertainty, election officials declared Thursday that Felipe Calderon, a conservative free-trader, had won the race for president by less than 1 percent of their official count.

His leftist rival refused to accept the results and immediately vowed to go court and demand a recount.

As he pulled ahead in a tally overnight that entranced the nation, Calderon, 43, said in the predawn hours that he would fight to keep his victory, however narrow, over the populist former Mexico City mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Election officials said Calderon had won by 243,000 votes out of 41 million cast Sunday.

By Thursday evening, Calderon appeared before supporters at his party headquarters and gave a half-hour victory speech, declaring the forces of peace had won out over those of violence. He reached out to the supporters of the other candidates and urged Mexicans of all political parties to come together, declaring the voters demanded it.

“I assume as my personal responsibility the hopes of the people who have voted for other candidates,” he said.

The official tally opened a new phase in the bruising political battle between the two men. Lopez Obrador’s refusal to concede defeat set the stage for a legal challenge that could take weeks and yet decide who would be the next president.

He called on his supporters to rally in the historic central square of the capital on Saturday in a show of strength that suggested he would use massive street demonstrations to put public pressure on the court to grant his request for a recount.

“We cannot accept these results,” Lopez Obrador, 52, said. “We are going to ask for clarity. We are going to ask for a vote count, polling place by polling place.”

Lopez Obrador’s determination to challenge the results means that a special Federal Electoral Tribunal, set up to handle electoral disputes, will end up deciding whether there will be a recount. Some legal scholars said that while that outcome was unlikely, it was not impossible.

Lopez Obrador said the election had been riddled with irregularities and the official count could not be trusted. He and the leaders of his Party of the Democratic Revolution complained that, during the official tally on Wednesday and Thursday, local election officials had ignored demands that boxes of ballots be recounted from polling places that they thought had unusual results.

Aides to Lopez Obrador said he would argue in court that a recount was needed because poll officials had tossed out large number of ballots — 904,000 — because they could not tell the intention of the voters. These null votes could be enough to change the results of the election, they said.

Lopez Obrador is also likely to point out that, in the few cases where election officials did recount votes during the official tally, mistakes had been found. Many of those mistakes hurt Lopez Obrador and benefited Calderon, they said.