Mexico's next president as bridge builder
After two months of postelection tumult in Mexico, Felipe Calderón is now officially the president-elect. But even though he won the vote (barely), he now needs to win legitimacy. Otherwise, the torn fabric of Mexico's young democracy may further fray.
Mr. Calderón, a Harvard-educated conservative who was once energy minister, must show the 3 out of 5 Mexicans who did not vote for him on July 2 that he can represent their interests.
He can do that with a unity cabinet made up of different party leaders – and with policies that reflect both poor and rich, north and south. He already backs a program that rewards rural parents with welfare if they keep their children in school.
Without such bridge building in a polarized nation, his ruling National Action Party may find it difficult to muster the popular support needed to quell the ongoing civil unrest promoted by his main opponent, the leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has called for nonviolent revolution ("To hell with the institutions," he declared Tuesday) rather than accept his narrow loss.
An end to the street blockages and other obstructionist tactics of Mr. Obrador's Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) will require that many of that party's leaders see the damage done to their cause in alienating Mexicans through anti-democratic mob actions.
The PRD won more votes in the presidential campaign than anytime in the past, and it did well in races for Congress. Those are achievements to build on, not destroy by street antics that upset daily life in the capital and the workings of government.
The leftist party also undercuts the country's new electoral institutions, set up a decade ago to bring legitimacy to a voting process that had been corrupted over seven decades by the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. The PRI, as it is known, fared very badly in this election, a sign of how much Mexico has changed in the past decade. Now it may end up playing a cooperative role in supporting Calderón's unity efforts. But it could just as easily help Obrador (a former PRI member) if he chooses to run for president again rather than play the spoiler.
A unity government may be just what Mexico needs after the failure of the current president, Vicente Fox, to implement reforms that would have led to less corruption in government and more job creation. One of Mr. Fox's failings was that he wooed some political opponents into his government but didn't require them to lobby for his reforms in Congress.
Fox is leaving behind a growing economy, but one not yet able to compete with Asian rivals. This election shows Mexico must first deal with its economic disparities and further cement its democratic institutions if it wants to be a stronger global player. And time is running short for reform of the state-owned oil company, Pemex, in order to boost slipping domestic production.
Calderón's ability to end the political unrest will be a telling sign of his ability to fix Mexico's economy and reduce social inequities. With a party that's in the minority in Congress, he'll need to practice the artful politics of inclusion. The more he does that, the more democracy will become established in Mexico.