Who is Felipe Calderon?

Dan Grech Jul 5, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: It’s not quite Bush-Gore, but it’s pretty close. They’ve started recounting the ballots for Mexico’s presidential election. Conservative Felipe Calderon against leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. The main Mexican stock index had a pretty good couple of days Monday and Tuesday. When it looked like Calderon would win outright. But the recount has been a bit back and forth. And investors were kind of subdued today. They’ve been banking on a Calderon win, and what it might mean for the Mexican economy. From the Marketplace Americas Desk at WLRN, Dan Grech reports.

DAN GRECH: Felipe Calderon lays out his platform in a TV interview in March. . . . The candidate of the ruling National Action Party was 10 points behind in the polls at the time. Now, he could become the next president of Mexico.

Supporters find much to admire in this 43-year-old economist and lawyer. But he is stiff. He’s balding and bespectacled. And even his supporters admit he lacks charisma.

But they like his guiding principles: fiscal restraint, minimal government, free trade. That sounds eerily like the policies of President Vicente Fox. But Calderon has labeled himself The Disobedient Son.That cleverly stresses continuity with President Fox, but also a determination to avoid Fox’s mistakes.

Pamela Starr is a Mexico analyst with the Eurasia Group.

PAMELA STARR: Felipe Calderon is aware of why Fox failed, and he’s not going to go down the same path. He’s simply saying, “I will be better than Fox at fulfilling Fox’s promises.”

Fox came to power six years ago promising millions of new jobs. But half of Mexico still lives in poverty.Millions instead flee north to find work.

Calderon says he would be “the jobs president.” He says his labor, tax and energy reforms would jump-start the economy. And he’d prepare people for new jobs by spending more on public schools and universities.

Karen Aerenlund is a restaurant owner and employer in Mexico City. This small business owner is a typical Calderon supporter. She doesn’t understand why his rival, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, constantly attacks the country’s business class.

KAREN AERENLUND We keep in work 250 people and their families. And we pay taxes. I don’t think we’re that bad.

A taco stand has set up just outside one of her restaurants in the posh Polanco neighborhood. The owner doesn’t pay taxes and illegally draws power from an electrical line. These black-market businesses have grown in recent years.

And Calderon promises to snuff them out. Calderon also wants to wants to distance himself from the endemic government corruption that marks Mexico. He raises open palms at rallies to show his hands are clean.

Yet, with the help of US advisors, Calderon ran one of the dirtiest electoral campaigns in Mexican history.In speeches he compared rival Lopez Obrador to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. One ad even branded Lopez Obrador a “danger to Mexico.” Eduardo Sojo is one of Calderon’s principal campaign advisors.

EDUARDO SOJO: The negative campaign, the contrast campaign, helped us to tie the campaign and to be ahead on the polls. So I guess it was an important strategy.

Though not as important as Calderon’s strategy for solving Mexico’s deep-seated inefficiencies, if he’s elected president. And that’s a big if. Today Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute began its official tally of votes, which may or may not confirm that Calderon has a razor thin lead.

Even if he wins, Calderon faces a divided electorate, a congress dominated by opposition parties, and possibly months of protests by Lopez Obrador supporters.

And Mexico remains a troubled country where the best opportunities are had by sneaking north across the border.

In Mexico City, I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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