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Presidential election has Mexico in gridlock

Dan Grech Sep 1, 2006


DAN GRECH: Tonight, Mexican President Vicente Fox will give his final state of the union address. That is, if Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador lets him.

Supporters of the leftist candidate plan to hold a rally outside the capitol building. And sympathetic Congressmen have threatened to physically block Fox from making the speech. They say Fox tampered with the election results to allow fellow party member Felipe Calderon to win.

Mark Weisbrot is with the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, D.C. He says over the past two months, a disputed election has devolved into an irreconcilable divide.

MARK WEISBROT:“I just think it’s a very potentially explosive situation. You have a lot of very angry people. The majority of the country, according to polls, believes that the election was fraudulent. And you have a strong case that these ballots should be recounted.”

Weisbrot says the recount process was certainly flawed. But Lopez Obrador has gone further, saying the election was stolen from him. He’s refusing to concede defeat.

WEISBROT:“I think there’s a very real fear that this could spread and there could be a Ukrainian-style delegitimation of this election entirely, and of the government.”

Just six years after its triumphant return to democracy, Mexico has entered into political gridlock.professor George Grayson, at the College of William and Mary, is an expert in Mexican politics.

GEORGE GRAYSON:“The country is split down the middle whether you have a large welfare state with protectionism and subsidies or whether you associate yourself with the global economy and move toward free market policies.”

The Mexican political map is divided in two. The industrialized north is aligned with free marketeer Felipe Calderon. Mexico City and the rural south rally behind leftist Lopez Obrador. Pamela Starr is a Mexico analyst at the Eurasia Group. She says this is more than just an ideological divide.

PAMELA STARR:“Northern Mexico has prospered under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Whereas southern Mexico, which is a much more of a traditional cultural region, they have found it much harder to adapt to the new rules of the game of a freer market and have been much less successful as a result. So what you get is a growing economic but also a sociocultural divide, and it’s something this presidential campaign really brought out.”

July’s election has only served to push these two regions even farther apart. Sergio Sarmiento is a commentator for TV Azteca in Mexico City. He says without Lopez Obrador’s cooperation, a Calderon presidency has almost no chance of implementing its open market agenda.

SERGIO SARMIENTO:“Curiously enough, Lopez Obrador, because he comes from the left, would be more able to make those reforms for a very simple reason. In other countries like Spain, we’ve seen the market reforms are more easily promoted from the left than from the right.”

But that’s a very unlikely scenario.

Right now, supporters of Lopez Obrador occupy Mexico City’s main thoroughfare and its central square. And that may be just the beginning.

I’m Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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