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US Expert: Rocky Road Ahead for Mexico's New President

Now that the Mexican electoral tribunal has declared Felipe Calderon president-elect, the path should be clear for him to begin forging a new government to tackle his country's many problems. But losing candidate Manuel Lopez Obrador refuses to concede defeat and plans to form a parallel government.

The announcement by the tribunal ended more than two months of uncertainty about whether the results from the July 2 voting would be approved or annulled. But the story is not over from a political standpoint since Lopez Obrador rejects the tribunal's ruling and says he will hold an assembly in Mexico City in two weeks at which he will be declared president by what he calls "the people."

George Grayson, a top expert on Mexico who teaches at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, just returned from Mexico, where he observed the situation up close. In a VOA telephone interview, he stresses the need for Calderon to move forward quickly with a plan to help the more than half of Mexicans who live in poverty, many of whom voted for Lopez Obrador.

"I think he will be successful, but he has to start by addressing the issues that Lopez Obrador trumpeted, mainly the gross inequality between the haves and have-nots and, secondly, the pitiably low expenditure on health and education and job creation," he explained.

Lopez Obrador remains camped in Mexico City's main plaza, the Zocalo, with several thousand supporters. They have also blocked most of the city's main thoroughfare, Paseo de la Reforma. But Professor Grayson does not believe that will go on much longer. He believes the protesters will be forced out before the celebration of the Cry-of-Independence on September 15, which is to be followed by a military parade the next day from the Zocalo and down Reforma.

Grayson says Lopez Obrador will have to move on.

"He will move around the country. I think his presence will be positive, in that he will keep the pressure on Mexico's establishment to undertake reforms, but his will largely be a side show," he added.

Other observers in the Mexican capital, however, are not so sure. Lopez Obrador seems determined to remain in the Zocalo and recently called on the armed forces to disregard any orders to remove them. Members of his party, the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution(PRD) have remained at his side in this struggle, but citizens of Mexico City are growing weary of the strife.

PRD senators and deputies last week staged a protest in the Congress that prevented President Vicente Fox from delivering his "informe," or state-of-the-nation address, but Professor Grayson says such antics do not appeal to state governors.

"The governors in the country, including at least two PRD governors, are pragmatic, they are results oriented, and they want to see Felipe Calderon succeed, because unlike legislators who can act like divas and simply spout purple rhetoric, the governors have to achieve things," he noted. "They have to build schools, they have to construct clinics, and they are quite willing, in fact, eager, to work with the president-elect."

Grayson notes that Lopez Obrador may proclaim himself president and hold rallies, but Felipe Calderon, after he assumes office on December 1, will wield real power in terms of appointments, directives and budgeting of federal funds.

He says some PRD leaders are worried that Lopez Obrador may be dragging the party down with him through his continuing protest. Public opinion polls show he is losing support.

Professor Grayson says PRD founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas and his son, Lazaro Cardenas, the current governor of the state of Michoacan, along with Zacatecas governor Amalia Garcia, are seeking to limit damage to their party.

"They have no love lost, whatsoever, for Lopez Obrador," he said. "They believe that he is dogmatic, that he is undemocratic, that he is secretive, that he is messianic. I think we will hear from not only Amalia Garcia, but Cardenas, father and son, within the next few days."

Since it was founded about 12 years ago, the PRD has grown into the second political force in the country, behind the ruling National Action Party (PAN). Some party members now see those gains at risk, because of public anger over the ongoing protests.