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A year after defeat, Mexican leftist fades away

Section: Daily Dispatches

By Catherine Bremer
Sunday, July 1, 2007

MEXICO CITY -- The leftist who a year ago was a hair's breadth from winning Mexico's presidency was reduced to political artifact on Sunday, drawing a fraction of his old crowds to an anniversary rally.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who insists his razor-thin defeat to Felipe Calderon in the July 2, 2006, election was rigged, has spent most of the past year crisscrossing Mexico to declare himself the "legitimate president."

While Sunday's rally attracted tens of thousands of people, numbers were far fewer than the estimated 300,000 who turned out for Lopez Obrador in the run-up to the election in some of the biggest political marches ever seen in Mexico.

Ordinary Mexicans say the leftist former indigenous rights activist has dropped off the political map.

"It is not the same; there are very few people. He lost and I don't think he will be back," said Raul Coronel, 36, a street sweeper at the rally. "He should have ended this whole circus long ago," said Raymundo Aroyo, 27, a bookseller.

A poll in Mexico's Reforma Group newspapers on Sunday said 31 percent of those who voted for Lopez Obrador a year ago would not vote for him again. Almost half of those polled said Calderon's presidency had so far been better than expected.

Lopez Obrador's down-to-earth persona, austere lifestyle and populist rhetoric earned him a huge following. For months he led opinion polls and alarmed Wall Street analysts who were concerned he would threaten Mexico's economic stability.

But Calderon, a bespectacled conservative, won by 0.58 percentage point, and despite months of sit-in protests by Lopez Obrador's followers, Mexico's top electoral court eventually ruled that Calderon had won fairly.

"I say, we say again: We won the presidential election," said Lopez Obrador, who used the rally to plug his new book "La mafia nos robo la presidencia" -- "The mafia stole the presidency from us."

The 2006 election was the first since conservative Vicente Fox's election win in 2000 ended 71 years of one-party rule.

It split Mexico along class lines, with Lopez Obrador painting himself as champion of the half of Mexicans who live on less than $5 a day. Many feared Calderon's slender victory would mean leftist protests could disrupt his government.

But despite only scraping into power, Calderon is enjoying sturdy popularity ratings -- 65 percent in a recent poll -- and has impressed many with an army crackdown on drug cartels and by swiftly passing a critical pension reform.

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