Today’s transition from outgoing Mexican president Vicente Fox to his hand-picked and rather bureaucratic successor Felipe Calderón gave the lie to the comforting notion that Mexico has a healthy democracy. Calderón had to bust his way into the congressional chamber to be sworn in.
Calderón’s leftist opponent, former Mexico City mayor Manuel López Obrador, has refused to accept the results of the July election. López Obrador’s supporters had tried to block the entrances to the chamber. When Calderón managed to enter, flanked by body guards, they booed, whistled, shot birds and fought their way through the swearing-in ceremony (see the Washington Post slideshow).
López Obrador held a strong lead in the months before the election, which seemed to come crashing down in the final weeks of campaigning among accusations that he was a megalomaniac who loves to stir up dissent.
So, is he proving his opponents right, or did they set him up before they stole the elections—by a conveniently narrow margin of 240,000 votes among 41 million ballots cast? Hard to say. Mexico hardly has a solid record of legitimate elections—the PRI party lied, cheated and stole its way to the presidency (and pretty much everything else) in Mexico for more than 70 years. Electoral confidence was higher in the 2000 election of Vicente Fox, the first non-PRI candidate to occupy the presidential palace since that party was formed in the crucible of the 1910-1919 Mexican Revolution.
Those who follow Mexican politics will know it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to suggest that perhaps the PRI made a back-room agreement to pass the torch to Fox’s conservative PAN party precisely to prevent the populist leftism López Obrador represents from taking hold in a country whose rich/poor gap makes the U.S. look like Norway.