Felipe Calderón, Mexico’s centre-right presidential candidate, on Wednesday accused his leftwing rival of “intolerance” and “irresponsibility” by alleging foul play in last Sunday’s election and calling for street protests.

In a Financial Times interview, Mr Calderón said Andrés Manuel López Obrador “wanted to make the people believe he had won”.

“It is not true. Then he wanted to make them believe that there was foul play. That is not true either, and we will fight these tricks one by one.”

His comments on Wednesday come as the electoral authorities began an official count to determine the winner of what is proving to be Mexico’s tightest presidential election yet. The result is expected in the next four days.

According to a preliminary – and incomplete – count, Mr Calderón, the candidate of the ruling National Action party (PAN), has a lead of 257,000 votes, or 0.6 per cent of the total cast, over Mr López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution party (PRD).

On Tuesday, a top PRD official told the FT that the party would “almost certainly” challenge the result in the courts, claiming that the initial count was riddled with inconsistencies.

Admitting his concern about the impact such behaviour would have on Mexico’s social and political stability, Mr Calderón said: “To invoke fraud without offering proof, don’t you think that is a danger to the country?”

He also expressed concern about what he called a PRD strategy to annul the election.

Mexico’s electoral laws permit a limited number of circumstances where one or more of the 130,000 ballot boxes sealed on Sunday can be reopened as part of the official count, with the physical paper votes they contain being recounted one by one.

However, Mr Calderón said the law forbids the reopening of any boxes unless the electoral authorities agree there is due cause. Flouting the rules, he said, could potentially invalidate the result.

Despite these worries, Mr Calderón underlined his optimism that the electoral authorities would soon recognise his victory.

His first priority as president-elect would be to broker a pact of national unity to close the deep rifts that have opened up since campaigning began in January.

Part of that pact could even include invitations to members of Mr López Obrador’s PRD.

But he admitted that such an alliance was “remote”, and said a more likely possibility would be a coalition government with the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), which governed Mexico for 71 years until it lost in 2000.

As president, he said, he would orientate foreign policy towards the immediate region, and hinted that his first state visit would be to a Latin American country.

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