Friday, December 01, 2006

Calderon takes oath

Calderón takes oath as Mexico's president
By James C. McKinley Jr.
The New York Times
It was not pretty, and it lasted only four minutes, but Felipe Calderón, the new president of Mexico, managed to take the oath of office in Congress on Friday, while leftist lawmakers whistled and catcalled and the losing leftist candidate staged a huge protest march down the central avenue of this capital.

Calderón and members of his conservative National Action Party overcame attempts by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party to block the entries to the Congress. With his own partisans crowding the dais, the new president and his predecessor, Vicente Fox, were spirited in by bodyguards through a door near the front of the chamber at 9:50 a.m.

Calderón quickly took the oath of office, and Fox handed over the traditional presidential sash and left the chamber.

Never before in modern Mexican history has a president been sworn in under such chaotic and divisive conditions. After three days of sit-ins, fisticuffs and pushing matches broke out between rightist and leftist lawmakers as they jockeyed for position in the chamber before the four-minute ceremony, with leftists trying to obstruct the entranceways and the conservatives protectively ringing the dais and podium. Opposition politicians blew whistles and held up banners suggesting Calderón was "a traitor to democracy."

The courts determined that Calderón, 44, won the election on July 2 by about 240,000 votes out of 41 million ballots cast. But his rival, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has insisted that the official results were tainted and has never conceded defeat.

Calderón's term of office began at midnight, and for legal reasons the incoming president is usually sworn in privately at the presidential residence at that time, with the oath later taken again at a public ceremony at the Congress. This year, the departing Fox administration took the unprecedented step of broadcasting the private midnight swearing-in live. Shortly afterward, Calderón spoke on national television, urging lawmakers to "respect the Constitution" and let the public ceremony go forward without disruption.

"I don't ignore the complexity of the political moment we are living, nor our differences," he said. "But I am convinced that today we should put an end to our disagreements and, from now on, start a new chapter that has as its only objective to put the national interest above our differences."

His call went unheeded. Just before the public swearing-in, López Obrador held a mass rally in the city's historic central square, Constitutional Plaza, attracting more than 100,000 supporters. Then he led a march down Paseo de la Reforma toward the National Auditorium, where Calderón spoke Friday afternoon.

There, the new president called again for Mexico to move past the divisive presidential race and to focus on the economy and to combat kidnappings and drug violence, The Associated Press reported.

Speaking to his supporters, López Obrador charged once again that the election was fraudulent and that Calderón's victory had been engineered by a "neofascist oligarchy." He claimed the "imposition" of Calderón as president amounted to a "coup d'état."

He also hinted that he and his party might resort to violent protests in their efforts to "defend democracy."

"We don't want to generate problems, but they have to understand for once and for all, we are going to defend the democracy of this country," López Obrador said. "We have always acted in a responsible manner, but understand me well: Everything has its limit."

In Congress, the left and right seemed as entrenched as armies in World War I after the donnybrooks and yelling matches of the morning, boding ill for any agreements on important changes the country needs to remain competitive.

In the end, the conservative legislative leaders were successful not only in getting Calderón to the podium, but also in ensuring that dignitaries like former President George H.W. Bush, who represented the United States, were able to attend.

The raucous behavior of the leftist lawmakers provoked strong reactions.

"The Democratic Revolution Party should lose its party registration because they don't respect institutions," said Héctor Larios, the Nation Action Party leader in the Chamber of Deputies. "We have put a stop to the continual threats and extortions of the PRD," he said, adding, "We cannot respect people who don't respect institutions."

But the leftists, for their part, continued to lob verbal grenades at the new president, suggesting that his refusal to accept a recount in the general election had pushed the country to the brink of a revolution. "Felipe Calderón does not enjoy legitimacy in his position, even when he has the law on his side," said Senator Carlos Navarette of the Democratic Revolution Party. "Calderón's government has started its rule by throwing matches everywhere, on dry straw."

A Copyright © 2006 The International Herald Tribune |
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