By Rubén Navarrete Jr. (THE WASHINGTON POST, 10/09/06):
SAN DIEGO — The long wait is over in Mexico, where the top electoral court has declared a winner in a presidential election held two months ago. The hope is that things will calm down.
Don’t bet on it.
Having lost the election, a left-wing populist with a flair for the dramatic labels his opponents “criminals” and vows to set up a shadow government.
About 150 equally dramatic legislators in Congress take control of the podium and prevent the sitting president from delivering his final state-of-the-nation address. In the streets, protesters throw rocks and bottles at police and stage sit-ins at makeshift shantytowns.
Who needs a presidential address? The state of the nation is obvious: Mexico has gone mad.
More so than usual, I mean. Our neighbor to the south is no model of stability. If that were the case, it wouldn’t be hemorrhaging its best people — the daring young men and women whose optimism leads them north in search of a better wage. There wouldn’t be polls showing that nearly half of Mexicans would migrate to the United States if they could.
Still, economic instability is one thing. Political turmoil is a whole different headache. As long as the issue has a binational dimension to it, Mexican elites can dodge accountability by spinning it as Mexico vs. the United States. Concerned that Mexico can’t provide opportunities for its people? What you should be concerned about, the elites say, is how los americanos treat your sons and daughters in el norte .
With political turmoil, there is no place to hide. It is Mexico vs. Mexico — in this case, middle-class Mexico vs. poor Mexico.
Never mind the rich. They’re yesterday’s news. They still have resources, but their candidates don’t have the popular support to win elections without dealing from the bottom of the deck. The party that many of them backed, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), came in third in the presidential race, lost seats in Congress and teeters on the brink of extinction.
The real struggle is between those in the middle class who are afraid to lose what they have earned and the poor who have nothing to lose.
A few months ago, before Mexican voters went to the polls on July 2 to select a new president, I suggested that Mexico needed a revolution. I also said that such a thing would never come to pass if pro-business conservative Felipe Calderón got more votes than left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
I was one for two. I was right that Mexico needs a revolution; the poor have had enough of being swindled and preyed upon — first by the rich and then by the middle class. In fact, the poor are so accustomed to this sort of treatment that it’s easy to see why they have taken to the streets. But I was wrong that a Calderón victory would preserve the status quo. Instead, that victory — and how it came to be — may just send the country into a tailspin.
Which is not to say that López Obrador was the better choice. Just take a look at his loco behavior since the election, and you’ll see: He’s not ready for prime time.
After the initial count showed Calderón winning by about 243,000 votes out of 41 million ballots cast, López Obrador called for a full recount. Election officials granted a partial one.
There was nothing wrong with López Obrador’s asking for a recount. It was a close election. Wrong was when he went on television before the recount was completed and unilaterally declared himself the president-elect. Wrong was when he accused his political opponents — including Calderón — of orchestrating a coup d’etat and then charged that Mexico’s electoral tribunal had gone along with it. Wrong was when López Obrador called for democracy and then wiped his feet on the democratic outcome when it didn’t go his way.
Poor Calderón. He has an uphill climb. The first goal of his presidency has to be to convince the poor and the disaffected that they have a voice and he’s listening to it. The president-elect can also expect to battle rival factions in Congress.
That includes those feisty legislators from López Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) who caused the scene last week by preventing Mexican President Vicente Fox from speaking. The lawmakers said they were protesting voter fraud and the theft of an election.
The protest wasn’t supposed to happen. Calderón’s supporters had hoped that the PRD would part ways with López Obrador over his antics and concentrate on building on its significant gains in Congress.
That approach makes sense. It is practical and reasonable and mature, which explains why some Mexicans want nothing to do with it.