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ANDRES OPPENHEIMER Mexico is likely to remain stable



Published: Fri, September 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Contrary to forecasts that Mexico's President-elect Felipe Calderon will not be able to rule effectively because of defeated leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador's vow to make the country ungovernable, there are 10 powerful reasons to believe that Calderon is likely to weather the storm.

First, while Calderon won the July 2 election by only 234,000 votes, he will have the largest legislative bloc in both houses of Congress. Sure, he will still need votes from other parties to pass major reforms, but he will have significantly greater representation in Congress than outgoing President Vicente Fox.

Second, Calderon, a former congressional leader of Fox's center-right National Action Party, is likely to be much better than Fox at handling Congress. When I once asked Calderon what had been Fox's biggest mistake, Calderon said it was the president's failure to reach out to Congress.

As an example, Calderon pointed out that he often didn't have access to the president when he was congressional leader of Fox's party. If elected, Calderon would regularly call legislators across the political spectrum, he said.

Third, Calderon may find it easier than Fox to get support from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), the third largest congressional bloc. The once almighty PRI, which did worse than ever in the recent elections, wants to resurrect itself as a major political force by becoming the swing vote in Congress. That will entail backing at least some key government bills.

Economic reforms

Earlier this week, I asked new Senate President Manlio Fabio Beltrones, of the PRI, whether Calderon will have an easier time than Fox passing economic reforms in Congress. "There is no doubt in my mind," Beltrones told me. He added, "There is a greater understanding of the crises we are facing."

Fourth, Calderon will shift to the center, and perhaps a bit to the left, to try to win over some of Lopez Obrador's supporters. Calderon's top foreign affairs advisor, Arturo Sarukhan, told me this week that the president-elect "is starting to reach out to leftist constituencies."

Fifth, following Tuesday's unanimous decision by the seven judges of Mexico's electoral tribunal, Lopez Obrador's claims that he -- and not Calderon -- is Mexico's president-elect, and that his critics "can go to hell with their institutions," will sound increasingly outlandish to many of his own followers. Lopez Obrador's once massive street rallies may become much smaller.

Sixth, Lopez Obrador's party will most likely split into various factions. While the radical wing of the party will continue supporting the defeated candidate, key party leaders -- including several PRD governors -- are likely to seek a more moderate course. They know they did better than ever in this election, and will want to remain in the democratic arena to win the next one.

Seventh, Calderon is winning the international public opinion battle.

Even before Tuesday's ruling, major international media that had earlier lent credence to Lopez Obrador's claims of fraud had made a dramatic editorial U-turn. Last Sunday,

Spain's influential daily El Pais carried an editorial titled, "Obrador's Excess," in which it stated that "the damage Lopez Obrador is causing to Mexico's democratic left is incalculable."

Calderon has since received congratulation calls from Spain's socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and several other influential leftist leaders who have influence over PRD leaders.

Civil resistance protests

Eighth, public opinion polls are showing that since Lopez Obrador started organizing civil resistance protests that almost paralyzed downtown Mexico City for weeks, his popularity has fallen sharply. Some surveys show that, if a new election were held today, Calderon would win by up to 13 percentage points.

Ninth, the markets are showing optimism. In recent weeks, the Mexican peso has strengthened against the U.S. dollar and the Mexican stock market has risen. If anything, it means that investors -- the most cowardly species on earth -- are confident that Calderon will be able to govern.

Tenth, recent history, such as the 1994 Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, suggests that Mexico's radical movements make big headlines, but are most often short-lived. Unless Lopez Obrador heeds the ruling by the electoral tribunal, which validated his own party's observers' count on election night, he risks following the same fate as the Zapatistas' Subcommander Marcos -- he will become increasingly irrelevant.

X Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.




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