updated 11/20/2006 6:18:33 PM ET 2006-11-20T23:18:33

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador launched a parallel government Monday and prepared to swear himself in as Mexico’s “legitimate” president, a ceremony the leftist hopes will keep alive protests to undermine the man who officials say defeated him at the polls.

The inauguration ceremony is the latest chapter in Lopez Obrador’s unsuccessful battle for the presidency. He claims fraud and dirty campaign tactics were responsible for President-elect Felipe Calderon’s narrow victory in the July 2 vote, and his parallel government could spend the next six years calling for street protests that have already dented the economy and prompted travel warnings from the U.S. Embassy.

While the red-green-and-white presidential sash to be draped across Lopez Obrador’s shoulders Monday will lack legal recognition, he hopes to assume the moral leadership of millions of poor Mexicans.

Based in Mexico City, Lopez Obrador’s parallel government has its own Cabinet, but it will not collect taxes or make laws and relies on donations to carry out its plans.

‘We’re going to confront it’
One of its first orders of business will be trying to prevent Calderon’s Dec. 1 inauguration.

“We’re not going to give the right free rein,” Lopez Obrador said in a final stop in the southeastern state of Veracruz this weekend. “We’re going to confront it.”

Thousands of Lopez Obrador’s supporters were gathering in the afternoon in Mexico City’s main Zocalo plaza, carrying signs lashing out against not only Calderon but the Roman Catholic Church and mainstream media.

“Calderon will have to be retrained or will have to go,” said Maria de Lourdes Carranza, 50, a Mexico City office worker.

Marco Ramirez, 34, a university researcher watching the crowd from a sidewalk cafe, said he believed many of the demonstrators were receiving money from the Mexico City government, which is run by Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party.

“This affects the country’s image,” he said. “It puts out a very bad image.”

Strategy has its detractors
It remains to be seen whether Lopez Obrador can keep up the momentum. Some members of his leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, have already expressed disagreement with Lopez Obrador’s strategy of using Congress — where the PRD is now the second-largest force — as an arena for protests rather than negotiations.

Writing in the Mexico City daily Reforma, columnist Armando Fuentes described Lopez Obrador’s “swearing in” ceremony as “laughable” and “a circus act, a farce.”

But Oscar Aguilar, a political science professor at the Iberoamerican University, cautioned that the leftist could successfully undermine Calderon.

“The problem is that he’s not a Don Quixote because the social and political conditions are fertile ground for this kind of leadership,” Aguilar said. “Many of the poor ... see this type of leadership as a solution.”

Protesters have held the center of the southern city of Oaxaca for months, demanding Gov. Ulises Ruiz’s ouster, despite the presence of federal police. Many worry that Lopez Obrador will follow suit and renew street protests, including those in which his supporters seized Mexico City’s center for nearly two months this summer.

Other issues gain in importance
Some citizens appear to be tiring of political unrest.

This month, Mexico City was rattled when several bombs exploded at political offices and banks. No one was injured, and a small, radical group not tied to Lopez Obrador claimed responsibility.

The violence has affected one of the country’s main sources of income. Revenue from tourism was down 4.3 percent in the first nine months of 2006, as compared to 2005.

President Vicente Fox cautioned in a speech Monday that “the electoral process is the path that Mexicans have to preserve a peaceful, orderly, civilized and pluralistic public and political life.”

Some of Lopez Obrador’s closest aides have suggested they will follow Bolivia’s example and try to use protests to force Calderon from office, as demonstrators did with a succession of leaders there. Lopez Obrador has not ruled that out.

“Nobody wants violence in our country, but there are people who give grounds for violence,” Lopez Obrador said last week. “There are a lot of people who say that, after July 2, the path of electoral politics in no longer viable.”

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