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Calderon Confronts Divisions in Mexico as He Prepares to Assume Presidency


The official final vote count in Mexico's presidential election showed ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon winning by only 236,000 votes. His main rival is threatening to challenge the outcome, and, even if that effort fails, the apparent president-elect faces animosity from the almost two-thirds of the electorate, who did not vote for him. VOA's Greg Flakus has more on the challenges facing the man who would be Mexico's new president.

Immediately after the final results were announced, Felipe Calderon came before supporters and television cameras to speak to the nation about his willingness to promote reconciliation.

He said that, as a result of the election, Mexicans had chosen him to be the next president of the country.

But he also recognized that, in a race against four other candidates, he had won by a thin margin, winning just over one-third of the votes cast. Given the abstention rate of 40 percent, his actual support could be far lower.

With this in mind, Calderon called for a coalition government, and said he would include members of rival parties in his Cabinet. His party, the conservative, pro-business National Action Party, known as the PAN, will enjoy a plurality in the new Congress, but will be far short of the votes needed to pass programs.

In an interview on Mexico's Televisa network, Calderon said he was open to making deals.

He said he would consider offering Cabinet positions to other parties, in exchange for their votes in Congress to pass reforms that Mexico desperately needs. Calderon wants to enact fiscal reform, energy reform and judicial reform, in an effort to modernize the country and make Mexico more competitive in a global economy.

President Vicente Fox, who will pass the presidential sash to Calderon in December, if challenges to the vote are not successful, tried to pass similar reforms, but was blocked by opposition parties in the Congress.

One of the parties most hostile to the PAN's free-market policies is the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, whose presidential candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, lost by a thin margin to Calderon in the final count.

He has rejected the results and will challenge them in the electoral tribunal, which has until August 31 to make a decision. Even if this effort ultimately fails, the bad blood produced by the dispute could make reconciliation with the PAN problematic.

Mexico is a country of great divisions, where forming a consensus on any course of action often involves spirited fights between people whose world views are completely opposite.

One of the people protesting the election results is Gustavo Ortega Bravo, coordinator of the Movimiento Aqui Estamos, or Here We Are Movement. Speaking to VOA at a protest in front of the electoral institute, he rejected what he said was a fraudulent election.

"This is more than politics; it is a clash between two proposals, that of the neo-liberal or free-market, free-trade policies of the PAN, and the Lopez Obrador vision of a more equitable society, in which the riches now enjoyed by a few hundred families would be shared with the poor," he said.

But such words and such protests frighten many Mexicans, even among the poor, a good portion of whom voted for Calderon in spite of the promises from Lopez Obrador to improve their lot.

Street sweeper Manuel is one of the working class people who voted PAN.

He says he voted PAN even though Lopez Obrador might have increased his pay, because he worried that the fiery populist would shake up the economy, and cause another devaluation of the Mexican peso.

The economic stability of the Fox government was a big factor in helping Calderon win. The current government has produced around four percent annual growth, and helped build a larger middle class, in which young people can more easily buy a house and purchase goods from other countries at lower prices than existed here before free trade.

An analysis of the vote shows that Calderon won heavily in the northern states, where the PAN has always had its strongest support, and the PRD captured most of the central and southern states. This geographic split could be a serious problem for Mexico, if any strife develops in the south over the perception that the election was fraudulent.

Lopez Obrador is demanding that the electoral tribunal order a vote-by-vote recount. Whether the seven judges on the tribunal will opt for such a lengthy and costly procedure is far from certain, but anything less could provide support to those who think there was some manipulation of results.

Felipe Calderon plans to begin forming his transition team Monday, but the legal challenges hanging over the political scene could delay his efforts to promote reconciliation.

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