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Friday, August 18, 2006

Tactical shift emerges from PRD camp

Andrés Manuel López Obrador´s call for an ongoing "convention" of supporters to act as an extra-governmental political force underscores a tactical shift that has already changed the tone of the post-electoral dispute and also could define how Mexico is governed over the next six years.

The proposed National Democratic Convention (CND), set to meet for the first time in Mexico City´s Zócalo on Sept. 16, seems designed to convert the current López Obrador-led civil resistance movement into a permanent political movement functioning outside the confines of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD). It also promises to be a permanent thorn in Felipe Calderón´s side should the Electoral Tribunal name the National Action Party (PAN) candidate as the president-elect sometime before Sept. 6.

"This is an initiative to organize the peaceful civil resistance and demand respect for the popular will," López Obrador said Wednesday night, reading from a document drafted to convene the convention. "The fundamental proposal of the National Democratic Convention is for representatives from every pueblo in the country to decide the role we will assume in Mexico´s public life under present conditions."

Though a membership of thousands is planned, the CND will start with an organizing committee made up of a handful of prominent López Obrador supporters, including actress Jesusa Rodríguez, writer Elena Poniatowska, and political figures such as José Agustín Ortiz Pinchetti and Dante Delgado.

The new move comes at a time of intensifying rhetoric and actions from both sides of the post-electoral struggle in which López Obrador has challenged the uncertified vote count that puts Calderón ahead in the July 2 presidential voting by 0.58 percent. Alleging fraudulent counting and ballot manipulation, López Obrador has demanded a full recount, which Calderón has refused to endorse and the Electoral Tribunal has yet to order, with time running out.

PRD national spokesperson Gerardo Fernández Noroña said Wednesday the protest organizers were considering taking their actions up a notch from civil resistance to "civil disobedience." Unlike civil resistance actions, such as the current encampments along Paseo de la Reforma and two other Mexico City streets, civil disobedience could include illegal acts, such as not paying taxes. In any case, Fernández emphasized, the protests will remain peaceful.

The PAN federal government, meanwhile, has flexed its muscles recently, on Monday dispersing less than 100 protesters outside the Legislative Palace with hundreds of federal police agents. PRD lawmakers were beaten and injured in the action.

On Wednesday, the federal presence was still heavy around the building, with federal police officers, metal barricades, and Army personnel with armored vehicles capable of launching tear gas and high-pressure water streams.

Mexico City police chief Joel Ortega, who on Tuesday criticized the federal crackdown on the PRD protesters, said Wednesday that the ongoing Army presence was out of proportion to the situation. "They need to be careful that this doesn´t generate a spiral of violence that later can´t be controlled," Ortega said, referring to the use of the armored vehicles.

The Calderón camp reiterated its support for the crackdown on Wednesday. César Nava, a PAN assistant secretary general who has served as the party´s chief spokesperson since the July 2 election, called the PRD protest at the Congress building "an attempted assault" and the federal crackdown "fully justified."

López Obrador´s increasing emphasis on civil resistance, along with the convening of a permanent convention, has been widely interpreted as a strategy shift away from pressuring the tribunal to reverse election results to re-organizing his movement to weaken a future Calderón government.

"He practically takes for granted that Felipe Calderón will be confirmed as president," wrote political analyst Alberto Aziz Nassif in EL UNIVERSAL on Tuesday. "That´s why he´s established this bridge to the next phase."

As he announced the formation of the CND, López Obrador said almost as much. "Consummating this electoral fraud by imposing the candidate of the right as president would trample the will of the people as it was expressed at the polls on July 2, and violate the Constitution right in front of everybody´s eyes," he said.
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