Winner of Mexico's presidential election must form coalition to make new policy

Thursday, July 6, 2006

After an official review of polling places' reports by Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute, Mexican citizens are waiting to learn who will be that nation's next president. The two leading candidates, conservative Felipe Calderon and liberal Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, are both claiming victory. Lopez Obrador's supporters say the preliminary vote count showing business-friendly rival Felipe Calderon with an advantage of about 400,000 votes was manipulated.

Dr. John Booth, a professor of political science at the University of North Texas, says whoever wins will find himself in the challenging position of forming a coalition in Congress in order to make new policy.

Booth says that if Calderon, whose National Action Party (PAN) is the party of outgoing President Vicente Fox, is formally declared the winner, "there will be continuity in the short run with current policies."

"There may be some stylistic changes, but nothing major. Calderon's National Action Party takes similar positions to President Bush and the U.S. Republicans on many issues, and that means relations with the U.S. will not see any major changes," he says.

Some political commentators claim if Lopez Obrador wins, Mexican politics could turn to the left, which happened in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez was elected president. Booth says those concerns are overblown.

"If Lopez Obrador wins, we could see the relationship between the two countries be a bit chillier, but only slightly so," he says. "He would be the equivalent of a liberal Democrat here in the U.S., but won't be able to do much because he will not have a majority of the seats in the Mexican Congress."

Booth says the need to form a coalition will be a challenge regardless which candidate is declared the winner. The winner will need to work with lawmakers from the PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for 71 years until its candidate was defeated in 2000 by Fox.

"Most of the big legislation proposed by Fox never made it out of the Mexican Congress, and I am not optimistic that there will be any major changes there," Booth says.

He adds the campaigns of Calderon and Lopez Obrador have a strong resemblance to politics in the U.S. - and with good reason.

"This election is considerably closer than the last presidential election. It's also the dirtiest campaign in recent Mexican history. One of the reasons for the attack politics is that all three candidates are using U.S.-based political consultants in their campaigns," he says.

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