Presidential Campaign Heats Up; Center-Left Candidate Lopez Obrador Calls President Vicente Fox "Squawking Bird"

Article excerpt

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the presidential candidate for the center-left coalition Alianza por el Bien de Todos, has spiced up the presidential campaign by calling President Vicente Fox a "squawking bird." Lopez Obrador, a member of the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD), made the comment several times in the course of his campaign to protest Fox's indirect support for Felipe Calderon, a member of the president's center-right Partido Accion Nacional (PAN).

Under Mexican law, the president is required to remain neutral, but Fox has skirted the law by launching a television and radio campaign to promote the accomplishments of his PAN-led government without even mentioning Calderon. "If we continue down this path, tomorrow Mexico will be better than today," Fox says in the commercials.

Lopez Obrador, whose coalition also includes the Partido del Trabajo (PT) and Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD), insists that Fox is using the TV spots to indirectly boost Calderon's candidacy.

Roberto Madrazo and officials from his Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) have also condemned the television spots, but the most pointed criticisms have come from Lopez Obrador, who has called Fox the "chachalaca mayor," in reference to a noisy game bird resembling a turkey, which is found in Mexico and Central America. The term chachalaca is rooted in the Nahuatl word chachalacatl, which means to speak loudly. The word is often used in Mexico to describe a loudmouth.

"He does act like a chachalaca, he screeches like a chachalaca," Lopez Obrador said in one of his speeches, in reference to Fox. "The president has to shut up, with all due respect."

Court orders Fox to halt radio, television spots

While Lopez Obrador was waging an overt campaign against Fox's intervention in the campaign, legislators from the PRD, the PRI, and other opposition parties quietly took the complaints about Fox's media spots to the country's highest court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nacion, SCJN).

The legislators' efforts were rewarded with two rulings in their favor. In a preliminary ruling in February, Justice Jose de Jesus Gudino Pelayo ordered the commercials to be suspended. If the ads were allowed to continue, he said, they could have an irreversible effect on the electoral outcome.

Gudino's ruling was put on hold, however, after Fox's legal advisor Juan de Dios Castro appealed the decision. The matter then went to the full court, which sided with Gudino. In a 9-2 decision in early April, the court upheld Gudino's decision, announcing that the ads must be suspended until a final verdict is reached.

The court's decision does not settle the question of whether the executive is in violation of electoral laws by running the advertisements. The ruling does, however, take the ads off the air for the rest of the campaign season, since a decision will probably not be handed down for about three months.

A court spokesperson said the decision was a precautionary measure to prevent the executive from continuing to spend public resources, which would not be recoverable if the ruling went against the president.

Lopez Obrador dips in polls

Lopez Obrador acknowledged that his comments about Fox's involvement in the presidential campaign might have crossed the line. "I always look for a balance between the heart and the head, between passion and reason," he told interviewer Victor Trujillo on the popular morning news program El Crystal con que Se Mira. "But I'm not a machine. I'm not perfect. Sometimes passion wins."

But the PRD candidate also said he would not stop referring to the president as a squawking bird if he continued to use his bully pulpit to support Calderon. "I'm not justifying my [wording], but the president must not involve himself in the election," he said. "He was criticizing us indirectly every day. …