Felipe Calderon Takes Oath of Office in Chaotic Ceremony; New President Makes Two Controversial Cabinet Appointments

Article excerpt

President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa began his six-year term amid controversy and by taking the oath of office in an unusual ceremony at the Congress. The new president also created an uproar by appointing two controversial figures to Cabinet posts: Francisco Ramirez Acuna as interior secretary and Eduardo Medina Mora as attorney general.

PRD, PAN clash in Congress ahead of swearing-in ceremony

Amid the tensions between legislators from the center-left Partido de la Revolucion Democratica (PRD) and the governing conservative Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), Calderon snuck into the San Lazaro legislative building through the back door early in the morning on Dec. 1, with a heavily armed contingent, to hold a very brief swearing-in ceremony. By entering through a back door, Calderon avoided the blockades that PRD members had set at other entrances to the San Lazaro building.

The PRD delegation in the Chamber of Deputies, which contends that the PAN committed fraud to steal the election from its candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, had vowed to prevent Calderon from taking the oath of office. The PRD and its center-left coalition partners, the Partido del Trabajo (PT) and the Partido Convergencia por la Democracia (PCD), intended to block access to the podium where Calderon was to take the oath of office. The PAN delegation preempted a PRD takeover of the podium, however, by assuming control of the area.

Legislators from the two parties went so far as to camp out in the San Lazaro building for a couple of days. This led to several confrontations that included shoving matches and several fistfights.

The third major party in Congress, the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), attempted to play a mediating role, including proposing that the venue for the oath of office be changed. However, the PRI was unable to convince the PAN to change the location of the swearing-in ceremony.

Oath of Office ceremony lasts only four minutes

The tense climate forced the PAN to sharply curtail the ceremony, which lasted only four minutes and included a rushed rendition of Mexico's national anthem. Even so, chaos reigned during the ceremony, with PRD, PT, and PCD deputies blowing whistles and shouting at Calderon to leave the premises. At the same time, PAN deputies cheered and chanted slogans.

In an earlier televised ceremony at Los Pinos presidential residence shortly after midnight, outgoing President Vicente Fox handed the presidential sash to Calderon in a similarly rushed and awkward ceremony that lasted a mere 15 minutes. Officials billed the passing of the sash as "a symbolic act," with the official act to occur later in the Congress.

Some political observers said the manner in which the oath of office was administered sent a confusing message to Mexican citizens. "If this is his first act as president, and he does it at midnight and in the dark, it's a very bad start," said analyst Marcela Bobadilla of the Instituto Mexicano de Estudios Politicos (IMEP). "It would mean he's ceding to threats and blackmail."

The new president must walk a fine line between leading a more assertive administration and adopting a hard line against dissent, some analysts said. "Calderon can't give in to pressure like Fox did or he'll send signals of weakness that he can't afford," said Jose Antonio Crespo, an analyst at the Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economica (CIDE). "If he adopts a very hard, rigid line, he could lose control of the country."

Unlike his predecessor, Calderon is expected to have a less confrontational style with the opposition and to seek compromises. "He is accustomed to negotiating. He is a person who places importance on the Congress," said Soledad Loaeza, a professor of political science at the Colegio de Mexico. "He is strong-willed and persistent and disciplined. He is a fighter."

Still, the narrow margin of victory in the presidential election and the continuing strong support for Lopez Obrador will make Calderon's political challenges much greater than those faced by Fox. …