Mexico City

One week after the most viciously contested presidential election in the history of modern Mexico, a Florida-sized fraud looms over the Mexican landscape, and the nation has been divided almost exactly in half along political, economic, geographical and racial lines. Right-winger Felipe Calderón’s questionable 243,000-vote victory over left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known by his initials, AMLO) splits the country between the industrial north and the impoverished, indigenous south. The cliffhanger election also pits an indignant Indian and mestizo underclass that believes López Obrador was swindled out of the presidency by electoral chicanery against a wealthy white conservative minority that controls the nation’s media, its banks and, apparently, the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), Mexico’s ultimate electoral authority. López Obrador charges the IFE and its president, Luis Carlos Ugalde, with orchestrating Calderón’s uncertain triumph.

At a raucous rally July 8 that put hundreds of thousands of supporters in Mexico City’s vast Zocalo plaza, the political heart of the nation, López Obrador called upon his people to demand a complete vote-by-vote recount of the results. Speaking from a flatbed truck set up in front of the National Palace, the official seat of the Mexican government, the former Mexico City mayor characterized President Vicente Fox as “a traitor to democracy” and accused the IFE of electoral fraud.

Indeed, fraud was the central motif of the mammoth meeting. Large photos of Ugalde slugged “Wanted for Electoral Fraud” were slapped up on central city walls, and tens of thousands of protesters waved homemade signs dissing the IFE official in colorful epithets unfit for publication on this website. Throughout the rally (which was billed as an “informative assembly”), the huge throng repeatedly drowned out López Obrador’s pronouncements with thunderous chants of “No to Fraude Electoral!”

The gathering in the Zocalo signaled the kickoff to what some here call “the second election in the street,” an effort to pressure electoral officials into a ballot-by-ballot recount that López Obrador is convinced will show that he was the winner of the July 2 election. The IFE has resisted such a recount.

A gifted leader of street protest, López Obrador is always at the top of his game when he is seen as an underdog battling the rich and powerful. He has called upon supporters in all of Mexico’s 300 electoral districts to initiate a national march on Wednesday that will converge on the capital on Sunday for what may turn out to be the largest political demonstration in the nation’s history. Indeed, López Obrador already set that mark in April 2005 when 1.2 million citizens surged through Mexico City to protest Fox’s efforts to bar the him from the ballot. Fox abandoned his vendetta three days after the march.

But López Obrador and his Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) will not just do battle in the streets. Evidence of widespread ballot box manipulation was presented to the nation’s top electoral tribunal (known as TRIFE) by the Sunday midnight deadline in an effort to persuade the seven justices that a hand recount is the only way to determine who will be the next president of Mexico. Such recounts have recently been conducted in close elections in Germany, Italy and Costa Rica.

Calderón and the PAN and Ugalde’s IFE consider López Obrador’s demands to open the ballot boxes an “insult” to the “hundreds of thousands of citizens” who were responsible for carrying out the election. “The votes have already been counted–on Election Day,” Ugalde declared.

The TRIFE is an autonomous judicial body with powers to annul the presidential election. In recent years it has annulled elections in Tabasco (López Obrador’s home state) and Colima and invalidated results in entire districts because of electoral flimflam in recent years. López Obrador and the PRD have also petitioned Mexico’s Supreme Court to invalidate the election because of Vicente Fox’s apparently unconstitutional meddling on behalf of Calderón. López Obrador is reportedly considering calling upon all PRD elected officials not to take office December 1 if the ballots are not recounted, a strategy that could trigger a constitutional crisis.

Despite the uncertainty about who won the July 2 election, the White House and US Ambassador Tony Garza have been quick to congratulate Felipe Calderón, for whom they exhibited an undisguised predilection during the campaigns. Garza has been lavish in his praise of the much-questioned performance of the IFE.

The next days will be heady and historic ones for this ancient land. Tens of thousands of “people the color of the earth,” as Subcomandante Marcos has named them, will be marching along the nation’s highways headed toward the capital with one word in their hearts: Justicia! It is what they have always demanded from one failed revolution to another. Will their voices finally be heard?