In spite of threats by leftist lawmakers, Felipe Calderon went before the Mexican Congress Friday to take the formal presidential oath of office as required by the constitution. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Mexico City, the action of the new president carries symbolic importance beyond the legal formalities.
In the hours before the scheduled oath of office ceremony, the lower house of the Mexican Congress was the scene of fist fights and shoving matches between members of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) and members of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) who had announced their intention to block the entrance of the new president.
Some political figures had raised the possibility of moving the ceremony to some other location to avoid conflict, but political analysts agreed that this would have been a sign of weakness on the part of the new leader that could have been exploited by his opponents.
Calderon and outgoing President Vicente Fox arrived at the podium in the House of Deputies at the appointed hour, and Calderon recited the oath.
Immediately after the oath, President Fox passed the red, white and green presidential sash to Mr. Calderon. There was a mixture of applause and boos from the Congress, but, in the end, the House of Deputies speaker called for everyone to sing the national anthem, and the scene returned to relative calm.
Mexican legal experts issued varying opinions on what would have happened, if the PRD had succeeded in preventing Mr. Calderon's entrance.
The constitution calls for the new president to take the oath before a joint session of Congress, but Mr. Calderon had already assumed de facto power in an unprecedented midnight ceremony at the presidential residence, known as Los Pinos, in a joint appearance with the outgoing president. There, Mr. Calderon swore in Cabinet members, who form his national security team, and then delivered an address to the nation.
He acknowledged what he called the "complexity of the political situation," but he said he and the opposition must put aside their differences for the good of the country.
Earlier on Friday, the former presidential candidate of the PRD and other leftist parties, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, rallied supporters, in an effort to impede Mr. Calderon's inauguration. He won the July 2 presidential election by about half a percentage point ahead of Lopez Obrador, who immediately called the process fraudulent.
Although a review of the election by the Mexican Federal Election Tribunal found no evidence of fraud, Lopez Obrador and his supporters have continued their protests, and he recently declared himself the "legitimate president."
But Friday's events made clear who holds real power in Mexico. Mr. Calderon has the support of the armed forces and the entire federal bureaucracy, plus all the privileges of the presidential office. Public opinion polls indicate that more than 85 percent of Mexicans accept Mr. Calderon as the legitimate president.