Mexico’s Calderon asks for unity, reconciliation following bitter, contested elections
MEXICO CITY – Ruling-party candidate Felipe Calderon accepted his victory in Mexico’s divisive presidential election happily but humbly, assuring supporters and rivals alike that his principal goal will be to leave the bitter election campaign behind and work for unity.He doesn’t appear to have much choice: If courts back the official results of a marathon vote recount finished Thursday, Calderon will take office with virtually no mandate from the people, a divided Congress and millions of angry voters who believe he stole the election from his leftist rival.The conservative candidate from President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party won the preliminary vote count following Sunday’s election by less than 1 percentage point. He was declared the winner of the recount with 15 million votes, or 35.89 percent of the 41.8 million votes cast, while former Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador received 14.8 million, or 35.31 percent.With a margin of victory of fewer than 244,000 votes, coupled with Lopez Obrador’s angry pledge to fight the results in court, Calderon appeared to take pains not to gloat on Thursday, instead emphasizing his respect for his adversaries and his intention to work for all Mexicans, including the millions who voted for his rivals in Mexico’s closest election in history.”Taking into account the diverse expressions of the people last Sunday, I’m making it my personal duty to take on as my own the wishes and the reasons that motivated millions of citizens to vote for other candidates,” he told giddy supporters gathered to cheer him on at his campaign headquarters Thursday evening, his smile evident but restrained.”For those that voted for me, I ask them that we move forward with the construction of the Mexico we dream of,” he said. “And for those who didn’t vote for me, I ask you to give me the chance to win your trust. I will do it as president of Mexico.”Faced with a Congress in which no party is likely to have a majority, Calderon spoke of building a “unity government,” and has said he would offer to include Lopez Obrador in his Cabinet. Reports also have emerged that his people are negotiating to give Cabinet positions to the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in an attempt to reach out to the divided Congress and move forward on the numerous reforms Fox failed to pass because of opposition resistance.He has not commented further on the composition of his government, but said in a television interview Thursday night that his administration would be one of “national unity that can convene all Mexicans.””A coalition government,” he said.But Lopez Obrador would have none of it. He blamed fraud for his narrow loss in the vote count, while denouncing election officials for going forward with an official count of poll-workers’ vote tallies, as required by election law, and ignoring his demand for a ballot-by-ballot review.Lopez Obrador, who has a history of successfully mobilizing millions to rally around him, called on his supporters – many of whom worship him much like a savior – to fill Mexico City’s main square Saturday in a show of force.Lopez Obrador led opinion polls – once by as much as 10 percentage points – up until the final months of the campaign, when he was hurt by his refusal to attend a presidential debate and by negative attack ads from Calderon comparing him to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.Dozens of saddened supporters gathered Thursday night outside Lopez Obrador’s house to chant their resistance to the election results and hung banners reading “No to Fraud,” and “We won’t permit another 1988,” at his campaign headquarters and in the main offices of his Democratic Revolution Party.The latter slogan is a reference to the presidential election many believe the PRI government rigged to prevent leftist candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas from winning. Cardenas went on to found the PRD.Lopez Obrador must present his complaints to the nation’s Federal Electoral Tribunal, the only authority authorized to declare who will be the next president. The Tribunal has until Aug. 31 to resolve all challenges regarding the recount, and until Sept. 6 to officially announce the president-elect.The new president begins a single, six-year term on Dec. 1, replacing Fox. Mexico’s constitution prohibits presidents for running for a second term.In addition to the marked political divisions he must face at home, Calderon faces the challenge of smoothing over rocky relations with the United States, which has sparred with Mexico over violence on the border, its opposition to the Iraq war, and its failure to strengthen the economy sufficiently to stop the steady tide of migrants who cross the border illegally each year to find jobs in the United States.Mexico, meanwhile, is deeply disappointed by the United States’ failure to pass a migration reform law that would pave the way for citizenship for the millions of Mexicans living and working there. U.S. President George W. Bush’s decision to send National Guard troops to the border has increased tensions in Mexico, as has a U.S. congressional proposal to extend walls along the two countries’ frontier.”I want to establish a very constructive relationship without bowing my head and lowering my eyes to the Americans,” Calderon said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.