At Last, a Victor in Mexico ; after Nine Weeks, Conservative Felipe Calderon Was Been Declared President

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After two months sifting through allegations of fraud and recounting ballots in a process that echoed the US election in 2000, Tuesday Mexico's top electoral court certified conservative Felipe Calderon as the nation's new president. The decision cannot be appealed.

While the postelectoral saga has come to a close, there is no storybook ending to Mexico's closest presidential race in history.

The challenges for Mr. Calderon, a bespectacled lawyer who has been called a bookworm, remain formidable. Some say his political savvy and a shift in the congressional balance of power might make it easier to push through the energy, labor, and fiscal reforms that eluded President Vicente Fox. But his skills at negotiation and patience, as he seeks to unify a deeply divided country, will be fully tested.

Unlike Al Gore in 2000, Mexico's runner-up Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO) has refused to concede defeat. The populist leader - who has slept in a tent with his followers in the middle of Mexico City for more than a month - has vowed to set up a "parallel" government and says that Mexico needs a "revolution."

On Friday, legislators from Mr. Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) took the podium where President Fox was supposed to deliver his final state-of-the-nation address. He had to retreat instead, giving his speech via television later in the evening - an event that, fraught with drama, has added to the polarization of the country.

"At the end of the day Mexicans are going to have to put postelectoral politics aside and move on and start focusing on issues that have to be addressed if Mexico is going to be successful in the 21st century," says Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, a Mexico scholar with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "Lopez Obrador is going to have an influence, no question, and Felipe Calderon is going to have to try and not get distracted and try to stay on course."

On the campaign trail, Calderon said he would focus on jobs, promising to remain a firm US ally and maintain the free trade policies championed by Fox.

Yet, in part because of the vocal opposition of Obrador, he will also have to focus on the fact that 50 percent of Mexicans are poor, and of them, many did not benefit from Fox's friendship with the US.

The election, in which Calderon garnered 233,831 more votes than Obrador (a margin of victory of just over 0.5 percent), revealed fractures in Mexican society: the industrial north, which has ben- efited from NAFTA, went largely to Calderon, while Mexico City and the poorer, rural south voted for Obrador.

Calderon says he wants to entice businesses to provide more young people jobs with tax exemptions, and proposes a lower and flat rate income tax, with none for workers with low salaries. He wants to expand healthcare services and education, especially in poor and rural areas.

Such proposals could be easier to realize during this term, because of the gains the National Action Party (PAN), the party of both Calderon and Fox, made in Congress, but also because of the declines of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which fought to block Fox's proposals during the past six years. …