Waiting for a president

Dan Grech Jul 3, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. . . Presidential vote too close to call. Both sides claim victory. The country holds its collective breath. This time it’s Mexico and there are no hanging chads to count. But the cliffhanger isn’t expected to resolve itself for a couple of days. Yesterday’s election was very much about economic priorities. Our Americas Desk correspondent Dan Grech of WLRN is in Mexico City.

Dan, things are so close down there. Is it really possible to change anything, including the economic situation? Whoever wins will have a divided congress and no real mandate.

DAN GRECH: The big problem with this election result is that Mexico, which has been in political gridlock for the last three years — the outgoing President Vicente Fox hasn’t been able to pass any major piece of legislation in the last three years — that gridlock is going to continue.

We’re going to have an evenly divided congress. It’s divided into thirds between the three major parties. We’re going to have a president who’s going to be voted in with just 36 percent of the vote, which is 6 percent less than Vicente Fox six years ago. And, regardless, we’re going to have a situation in which the political gridlock which has persisted over the last three years is going to continue. And this is a problem for Mexico because without making major economic reforms the economic stagnation which has affected this country — it’s grown only 2 percent over the last six years — is going to persist.

VIGELAND: Well there certainly seems to be an interesting international reaction going on here to this close race. The peso jumped in trading this morning. What’s that all about?

GRECH: Well, I think over the last week or so, the international investing community kind of absorbed the idea that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate, was going to win. He was leading in all the polls by about 3 percent. And this actually caused a slight market reaction, but not a huge one. And that shows that there isn’t a huge amount of fear in the international community of a Lopez Obrador presidency. What’s changed is that it now looks like Felipe Calderon — Harvard educated, business-friendly candidate — is neck and neck with Lopez Obrador and may even pull it off. And I think what we saw today — this morning the Mexican peso had its biggest gain in six years — was almost like a sigh of relief from the international investing community, when they said Felipe Calderon might actually be the president.

VIGELAND: Well, that’s the reaction from the international business community. What about locally there?

GRECH: If Felipe Calderon were to pull this off, which would be one of the most extraordinary political upsets, I think, in Mexican history . . . Felipe Calderon wasn’t even the choice of his own party in the primary. He ended up winning that primary and he was 10 points down about three months out. Part of the reason why he’s been able to make this extraordinary comeback is through a fear campaign, frightening people about the prospects of a Lopez Obrador victory.

And so, Felipe Calderon is hailed by many local businessmen as a kind of last, best hope. Lopez Obrador is a man who has come in and said “The poor first.” He’s clearly got their interest at heart and local businesses are scared to death of a Lopez Obrador presidency. Something I didn’t see the same reaction from in the international business community.

VIGELAND: Alright, well, I guess we will wait until later this week to find out how this all plays out. Dan Grech, thanks so much for being with us from Mexico City.

GRECH: Thank you, Tess.

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