No Honeymoon for Mexico's New Leader ; Felipe Calderon Becomes Mexico's New President Friday. He Faces Fierce Political Opposition

By Monica Campbell Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

No Honeymoon for Mexico's New Leader ; Felipe Calderon Becomes Mexico's New President Friday. He Faces Fierce Political Opposition


Monica Campbell Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Tensions remain high in the restive southern state of Oaxaca. Defeated leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador recently declared himself the "legitimate" president. And rival legislators came to blows this week on the floor of Congress.

There will be no honeymoon for Mexico's conservative president- elect Felipe Calderon, who takes office Friday after winning the disputed July 2 election by less than 1 percentage point - a vote that exposed Mexico's deep political and economic divisions.

The 44-year-old lawyer and former energy minister, a loyal member of outgoing president Vicente Fox's conservative National Action Party (PAN), faces a fierce opposition that will immediately test his political mettle. Despite predictions that Mr. Calderon would adopt a conciliatory approach, given the deep political rifts, early indications are that he intends to set a firm tone by confronting leftist opponents.

"Calderon must immediately show that he is in charge," says Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, director of the Mexico Project at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. "One of the mistakes of the Fox government was giving in and avoiding confrontation."

Calderon's first test: his own swearing-in ceremony. On Tuesday, a scuffle erupted in Congress between members of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and PAN legislators. PRD members, claiming the election was fraudulent, have seized part of the stage where Calderon is supposed to take the oath of office. With the stand-off continuing only hours before Friday's ceremony, which former President George H. W. Bush is expected to attend, it remained unclear where the ceremony would take place.

Calderon's chief rival: AMLO

Calderon's chief political rival will be Mr. Lopez Obrador, the former Mexico City mayor, known as AMLO, who lost the presidential election and has since created a "parallel" government to challenge Calderon. Lopez Obrador's popularity has dropped sharply since the election. Many of his moderate supporters have left his side, considering the move to create a "parallel" government over the top.

Still, Lopez Obrador can mobilize tens of thousands of supporters, and his advisers say that negotiating with Calderon would be futile. "There's no room for dialogue," says Jose Agustin Ortiz, one of Lopez Obrador's closest advisers. "He has surrounded himself with orthodox conservatives who will not budge from the same neoliberal policies that keep most Mexicans poor."

Francisco Javier Aparicio, a political scientist at the Center for Economics, Research, and Education in Mexico City, says, "Calderon cannot underestimate Lopez Obrador, who will likely dog the president throughout his six years in office. …

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