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Calderon by a Whisker in Mexico

Prepared by: Esther Pan
July 8, 2006

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Mexico's election produced a narrow victory for conservative Felipe Calderon, but the story does not end there. The EU declared the vote fair and legitimate, but leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador urged his supporters into the streets to bring peaceful pressure for a recount. Lopez Obrador—citing reports of missing ballots, widespread miscounts, and accusations of vote buying and voter manipulation—immediately pledged to challenge the results with Mexico's electoral tribunal, which must formally verify the results of the election by the end of August.

Mexico's National Electoral Institute (IFE) came under heavy criticism for alleged irregularities in the vote. Marifeli Pérez-Stable, vice president for democratic governance at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, D.C., writes in the Miami Herald that revelations about mistakes in vote counting by the IFE could have troubling consequences for the election's credibility. Angry Lopez Obrador supporters are charging fraud and raising fears of widespread social instability (El Universal).

Mexico—which was ruled by one party, the National Revolutionary Party (PRI), for 71 years—saw more than its share of rigged or stolen elections from 1929 until the country's first free presidential elections in 2000. The Financial Times says in an editorial that such a close, contested result is the worst possible outcome for "a country as socially unequal and politically polarized as Mexico," where it will severely test the country's civil institutions.

Kelly Arthur Garrett writes in Mexico's Herald that the election results show a nation equally divided over whether to choose change or continuity. Jorge Castañeda agrees, writing in the Los Angeles Times that Calderon won (barely) because he represented continuity with the progress made under outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Calderon now faces the challenge of uniting a deeply divided country and tackling an array of pressing social and economic problems. These include Mexican immigration to the United States, drug trafficking, weak job growth, rampant corruption, and crime. In addition, the new president will face a sharply divided Congress. Enrique Ochoa Reza, a law professor at Mexico's National Autonomous University and a member of the national political council of the Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI)—whose candidate, Roberto Madrazo, finished third—says in this podcast that Calderon will have to reach out to Lopez Obrador supporters and build a strong coalition in Congress if he wants to accomplish any of his policy goals.

The results of the election are critical for the United States, writes Pamela Starr in a CFR Special Report, "Challenges for a Post-Election Mexico." The new president will shape Mexico's economic and political direction for the next six years and beyond. "Rarely have Mexican voters been able to make such an important decision about the future of their nation," she writes.

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