Jail time to boost presidential hopes of Mexican leftist leader

The coup aimed to take popular mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador out of the presidential race could further increase his chances ahead of 2006 elections

As the local population splits over a recent rule of the Congress to strip Mexico's mayor and presidential favourite Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from his immunity to try him on a minor land dispute, hopes of the leftist leader to rule this Latin American nation are far from being crashed despite jail threat. Challenging ruling conservative forces that plotted against him, Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday jail would be a "dignified" place for him to campaign for 2006 elections.

Mayor's comments are well grounded: a recent survey found that 70 percent of Mexicans think the move to put Lopez Obrador on trial over a piece of private land that the allegedly expropriated to build a hospital access road was politically motivated. At the same time political allies began a hunger strike, stating that Congress vote was a blow to Mexico's fledgling democracy.

"All this farce was for that, because the president's office doesn't want me to participate. This is a setback to Mexico's incipient democracy. We cannot go back to the time when the president said who could and who could not (succeed him)," the left-wing mayor told a local TV station.

According to Lopez Obrador, Mexico's current conservative President, Vicente Fox, is playing the same game that his circumstantial allies in the Congress, the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, played during 71 years of one party rule.

As the Mexican legal system considers a person guilty until the contrary is probed, Lopez Obrador is likely to be jailed in the coming week spending trial and questions remain over whether he could still run in the July 2006 election. He has vowed to campaign from jail.

Placing himself as a victim of the perverted Mexican political system, could further boost Lopez Obrador's hopes of being elected President next year. The mayor is already working this strategy: "Prison is terrible, but prison is also dignified. It is amore honourable place for victims of injustice than to be unconditional freedom," he told reporters.

The Lopez Obrador affair shows the little capacity of Mexican traditional elites to move forward a full democratic system, which is seen as a threat to their interests. Lopez Obrador is neither a radical nor a revolutionary leader. He dislikes being compared with leaders as the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez or the Cuban Fidel Castro. He is simply a progressive politician as many others around the world willing to make of Mexico a more equal and democratic nation.

On the photo: Lopez Obrador supporters fill Mexico's main square to protest against the plot

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Author`s name Olga Savka