MEXICO CITY (AP) – The stock market is dropping. Protesters are marching on the capital. Citizens are lighting candles in hopes of divine intervention.

Two weeks after a still-undecided presidential election, the suspense is testing Mexico’s young democracy. The highly respected Federal Electoral Institute is charged with making sure that the tug of war doesn’t reverse democratic gains made since President Vicente Fox’s stunning victory six years ago ended 71 years of one-party rule.

Mexican stocks have given up nearly all of the huge gains made after the July 2 vote, and the peso, which initially rallied on news of conservative Felipe Calderon’s apparent victory, has stalled amid confusion over who won.

Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who refuses to concede, has given Mexico’s electoral court what he says is evidence of fraud. He calls Calderon a fascist, and is demanding a nationwide, vote-by-vote recount.

Lopez Obrador will lead hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – in a Mexico City march to demand that electoral officials review all 42 million ballots cast, something those officials say they can’t do. Thousands of his supporters have converged on Mexico City in caravans after scattered nationwide protests.

Some of his supporters have been adorning their windowsills with votive candles normally reserved for saints, praying that the former Mexico City mayor will reach the presidency.

Calderon is building a transition team and planning a victory tour, even though his 244,000-vote advantage – just under 0.6 percent of the vote – isn’t official until the elections court weighs all appeals and issues a final decree.

This week, the electoral court will hold public sessions to sift through claims by both sides of irregularities – including a television juice advertisement whose blue background matching the ruling party’s color allegedly sent subliminal messages in support of Calderon. On Friday, electoral officials from around the county were turning over to the court electoral materials.

Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party has handed over a nearly 900-page legal challenge claiming the election was tainted by fraud and that his rival’s attack ads – including spots that were eventually banned for comparing Lopez Obrador to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – were illegal.

Calderon’s ruling National Action Party has filed its own appeals using an army of about 1,000 lawyers, most of them volunteers. It alleges human error at 500 polling places, and has also filed responses to Lopez Obrador’s allegations.

The court could uphold Calderon’s victory, rule that Lopez Obrador really won, or annul the election completely and order another. Since 2000, it has annulled election results in two gubernatorial races: in Lopez Obrador’s home state of Tabasco in 2000, and in the western state of Colima in 2003.

No decision is expected for weeks. The Federal Electoral Tribunal, which handles appeals and certifies the presidential race, has until Aug. 31 to rule, at which point the magistrates will add up the votes that survived challenges. The court’s decision is final, and a president-elect must be declared by Sept. 6.

He will take office on Dec. 1.

Meanwhile, tensions are rising between the supporters of the candidates. Illustrating the divide the race has caused, a local television station recently aired a homemade video of an angry confrontation between a middle-class, middle-aged Calderon supporter and a crowd of Lopez Obrador followers.

The woman, a Calderon campaign sticker stuck to her shiny new sport utility vehicle, was shaking and near tears, screaming hysterically that the Lopez Obrador supporters were being manipulated by the leftist campaign and that the country needs to wake up.

The Lopez Obrador supporters yelled back that she was crazy, shaking their heads in disbelief and laughing until she drove away.

AP-ES-07-15-06 1407EDT

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