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Where is Mexico headed next?

By Lance Selfa | September 15, 2006 | Page 4

THREE DAYS after Mexico's high electoral court named him president-elect, conservative Felipe Calderón traveled to the city of Morelia in his home state of Michoacán to begin a victory tour around the country. But hundreds of demonstrators--supporters of his rival Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known by his initials, AMLO)--forced Calderón to cancel one appearance and cut short another to only a few minutes.

This was an inauspicious debut for the man who is scheduled to run Mexico for the next six years beginning in December. It is an indication of just how weak Calderón's presidency may be--especially if it faces the kind of social protest for which the post-election fight with AMLO was only a foreshadowing.

One week earlier, 155 legislators of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) and the Workers Party (PT), allies in AMLO's electoral coalition, took over the National Congress and prevented outgoing President Vicente Fox from giving his state of the union address. Fox had to escape to the presidential palace where he videotaped the speech.

It was the first time since 1929 that the presidential address in the Congress was cancelled and a signal of how far in public esteem major government institutions in Mexico have fallen.

The September 6 ruling by the Supreme Electoral Court ratifying Calderón's razor-thin victory conceded that Mexico's bosses, and their two favored political parties, Calderón's National Action Party (PAN) and the former Mexican ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), conspired to rig the elections against AMLO.

The court noted numerous violations of election laws--Fox's open advocacy for Calderón, big business' financing of scurrilous attack ads against AMLO, and instances of vote fraud, among others--that should have annulled the July 2 vote.

But the court, adding itself to the list of major institution that discredited themselves in the eyes of millions of Mexicans, ruled that all of those violations didn't really sway the ultimate result. So it crowned Calderón president.

In response to this electoral theft, AMLO called for a National Democratic Convention (CND) to be held on September 16, Mexico's Independence Day. Speaking to thousands of his supporters who had occupied the main government plaza, the Zócalo, since the end of July, AMLO said: "We are going to create our government--now that we don't accept the false republic, we are going to establish a republic that is representative and truly of the people."

The CND would also set itself the goal of preserving social protections for the poor against Calderón's neoliberal, pro-business policies and defending "the national patrimony"--i.e. preventing the privatization of the country's oil and power industries. As many as a million people are expected to turn out to this CND, which could declare a second government in rebellion against the imposition of Calderón.

At this point, it's unclear what AMLO wants to see emerge from the CND. Most likely, he will opt to make the CND a national coordination for protests and activism against the Calderón government. He will have his eyes on shaping this movement into a vehicle for his election as president in the future.

But a decision to push the CND farther--to actually declare itself a rival government--would have huge repercussions. The already weak Calderón could not tolerate the existence of a rival center of power in the country. So judicial and military suppression of the movement would be inevitable.

PAN and PRI lawmakers are already threatening to strip the PRD of its ballot status for its role in scuttling Fox's state of the union speech, as well as its participation in AMLO's post-election protests. And military repression--as the state government of Oaxaca was bringing down against the popular movement of millions demanding the resignation of the corrupt governor--would be launched against his supporters.

The election results revealed a Mexico divided in two: between rich and poor, North and South, mestizo and indigenous.

Calderón's presidency looks as if it will be wracked with conflict and instability. Both AMLO and Calderón won around 35 percent of the vote, with the second party of the right, the PRI, gaining 22 percent. Although Calderón can lean on the PRI to form a workable majority for his neoliberal offensive, he will remain a weak figure with the handicap of having been helped into the presidency at the hands of discredited institutions.

On the other side, AMLO's movement, while claiming to represent the aspirations of all dispossessed Mexicans, does not have anywhere near majority support. In this sense, it has not risen to the level of the popular movements that overthrew unpopular presidents in Ecuador in 2000 or in Bolivia in 2005.

AMLO's post-electoral campaign of civil disobedience has had little organizational contact with the struggle in Oaxaca or other workers' struggles, such as the movement of miners and other unions for trade union independence.

Whether these kinds of links can be forged in the framework of the CND remains to be seen. But forging these links will be key to mounting a sustained challenge to the corrupt, neoliberal ruling class that imposed Calderón.

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