4/08/2005

Mexican Leftist's Bid for Presidency at Risk

Looks like the spread of left-wing democracy in Latin America is getting a little to close to home for some people...
From the LA Times:
In a move that could ignite a political firestorm, the Congress stripped Mexico City's leftist mayor of his immunity from prosecution Thursday, possibly eliminating the leading contender from the 2006 presidential race. Many Mexicans saw the vote, which is similar to an impeachment action by the U.S. Congress, as an underhanded political maneuver to eliminate populist Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from running for president...President Vicente Fox, meanwhile, insisted that prosecuting the mayor - for what many citizens considered to be an innocuous infraction - was essential to Mexican rule of law. Earlier in the day, Lopez Obrador had formally announced he would seek the Democratic Revolutionary Party's nomination for president in next year's election. Polls give him comfortable leads over front-runners in the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and Fox's National Action Party (PAN). An estimated 400,000 Lopez Obrador supporters, many of whom came from faraway states to support the beleaguered mayor, massed in Mexico City's main square for the announcement and vote...The charismatic Lopez Obrador has built a strong following in the capital based on his social programs, including pensions for the elderly, free school supplies and ambitious public works programs. Like many other current leaders in Latin America, he has been an outspoken critic of globalization, saying that the benefits of free trade were oversold. But he also faces prosecution in federal court for ignoring a 2001 court order to halt city construction of a hospital access road over a disputed plot of ground less than 60 yards long...The case now threatens to derail his political career...Now, just 15 months before the national election, the Chamber of Deputies' vote to strip him of his legal shield opens the way for the Fox government to bring a felony charge of abuse of authority against Lopez Obrador. That will automatically disqualify him as a presidential candidate if the case is not resolved by Jan. 15...Lopez Obrador said he would not seek to avoid jail and that he would conduct his presidential campaign from behind bars if necessary...Constitutional expert Leonardo Cordova of the National Autonomous University expressed incredulity that the Lopez Obrador case had gone this far, given the relative harmlessness of the alleged offense, public opposition to the process, and the fact that no public official in Mexico has ever been prosecuted for ignoring a court order.

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