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Felipe Calderón was named Mexico’s president-elect on Tuesday after one of the most closely fought and controversial election battles in the nation’s history.
The seven-member Federal Electoral Tribunal said that Mr Calderón, the candidate of the centre-right National Action party (PAN), had beaten Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftwing Democratic Revolution party (PRD) by the razor-thin margin of 234,000 votes.
The figure is about 10,000 fewer than the official count following the July 2 election, and is understood to have arisen from a partial recount of the votes ordered by the tribunal after the PRD alleged foul play.
With the seven magistrates unanimously approving a draft ruling on the result, Mr Calderón will take office on December 1. According to Mexican law the tribunal’s decision is final but Mr López Obrador, a 52-year-old former Mexico City mayor, has vowed to continue his “peaceful civil resistance” movement in protest at what he insists was a rigged election.
Under a leaden sky outside the tribunal building on Tuesday, Mr López Obrador’s supporters gathered in anticipation. As they caught wind of the draft decision, two middle-aged women buried their heads in handkerchiefs and began to cry.
Ever since the initial count showed his narrow loss, Mr López Obrador has claimed that the election was fraudulent and has presented evidence that he believes proves vote-tampering at the ballot box.
He also says Mr Calderón’s campaign received unfair – and illegal – help from Vicente Fox, the outgoing president and a member of PAN. The leftwing campaigner has repeatedly called Mr Fox “a traitor to democracy”, and PRD congressmen carried their protest to unprecedented levels on Friday when they prevented Mr Fox from reading out his annual address to the nation after they overran the Congress building.
The tribunal’s ruling confirmed that Mr Fox’s comments in favour of Mr Calderón during the first part of the campaign had “put at risk the validity of the election”, and added that they could have been a determining factor had they continued.
As part of his protest, Mr López Obrador has called a huge rally in Mexico City’s main square on September 16, independence day. He said the purpose would be to set up an alternative government, and possibly even to begin voting on a new constitution.
In the face of such resistance, Mr Calderón, a 44-year-old father of three who briefly served as energy secretary in Mr Fox’s administration, has spent much of the last two months calling on Mexicans to unite.
He says he intends to work towards a coalition government with parties such as the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), and has even extended a hand to Mr López Obrador himself. “López Obrador is not the enemy,” he said last week.
Mr Calderón has given few clues as to who will sit on his cabinet. But he told the FT recently he would be prepared to cede certain positions to opposition parties.