The “National Democratic Convention” (CND), which Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador convened on September 16, aimed to reaffirm his position as leader of a movement opposing the incoming administration of Felipe Calderon, designated president-elect on September 5 after a hard-fought election.
According to organizers, over 1 million people attended the CND, though 150,000-250,000 probably is more realistic. By a show of hands, attendees voted to:
•not recognize the Calderon government, alleging that it won the election fraudulently, and try to impede its accession.
•designate Lopez Obrador “legitimate president”, who would “take office” on November 20, the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution (Calderon will take office on December 1);
•call for a plebiscite on a Constitutional Assembly; and
•meet again on March 21, 2007.
The accords had been heavily trailed and there were no surprises. (Some of Lopez Obrador’s supporters had advised him to avoid claiming to be president, and choose a title that represented his leadership of the opposition. However, Lopez Obrador claimed that he was the real winner of the election and had to act accordingly.
Despite confrontation with the government, negotiations have taken place, helping avert violent clashes:
•President Vicente Fox agreed not to lead independence day celebrations in Mexico City on September 15. Instead, Fox headed the ceremony in the town of Dolores Hidalgo, in the central state of Guanajuato. Lopez Obrador also decided not to lead a celebration in the capital, and the Mexico City governor (a close ally of Lopez Obrador) headed the ceremony.
•Lopez Obrador ordered the lifting of the occupation of the Zocalo and blockade of streets and avenues in the center of Mexico City, to allow a traditional military parade on September 16. He scheduled the CND several hours after it had taken place. The blockades will not be put back.
Aside from support from the CND, Lopez Obrador was able to consolidate his leadership with the formation of a three-party coalition on September 14, the Broad Progressive Front (FAP). Lopez Obrador’s Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), the Labour Party (PT) and Convergencia originally formed an electoral coalition, the Alliance for the Welfare of All (CBT), with Lopez Obrador as its presidential candidate. The FAP signaled that the PT and Convergencia still support him. The FAP will have 158 seats out of 500 in the Chamber of Deputies and 36 in the 128-seat Senate.
While the FAP represented an unexpected success for Lopez Obrador, PRD state governors have recognized Calderon as president-elect. PRD founder, Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, openly criticized Lopez Obrador’s strategy on September 14.
Lopez Obrador’s approach is unsustainable because it is contradictory:
•Lopez Obrador claims to be the legitimate president; but
•FAP members are participating in Congress and PRD governors are working with Calderon.
The FAP may fragment and some PRD legislators could openly break ranks.
No international recognition
Lopez Obrador’s appointment lacks legal legitimacy and foreign governments have not recognized it. The only exception is Venezuela, with President Hugo Chavez on September 14 arguing that the presidential election had not been clean, but leaving open the possibility of recognizing Calderon. Because of problems between the governments, there have been no ambassadors in the two countries since November 2005. Bolivian President Evo Morales has recognized Calderon, and the president-elect apparently has established contact with the Cuban government, seeking to restore the traditional strong relationship between the two countries, which cooled during the Fox administration.
With a weak domestic position, and no international support, Lopez Obrador may believe that the CND designation gives him a stronger negotiating position. PRD spokesman, Gerardo Fernandez, on September 12 presented Calderon detailed proposals during a press conference:
•A full vote recount should take place — as the PRD demanded and the Electoral Tribunal rejected.
•The winner would take office for a shortened three-year term (instead of the usual six).
•During this period, new electoral legislation would be enacted.
The spokesman stated that the offer was being made with Lopez Obrador’s authorization. However, within hours senior PRD members condemned it. Neither Fox nor Calderon acknowledged it, and Lopez Obrador quietly dropped it.
Lopez Obrador appears to be seeking either to force Calderon to resign, leading to an interim president and new election, or negotiate a shortened presidential term. He seems determined not to wait until the next presidential election in 2012.
However, in coming weeks, Lopez Obrador faces another challenge. Gubernatorial elections in his home state of Tabasco on October 15 will be a test of his political strength. He won Tabasco comfortably in the presidential contest. However, a recent GEA-ISA poll put PRD candidate, Raul Ojeda, eleven points behind Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) contender, Andres Granier. Lopez Obrador’s radicalism appears to have affected the PRD negatively, while Granier, previously the popular mayor of the state’s capital, Villahermosa, has run a strong campaign on local issues. A PRD defeat would be perceived nationally as a serious setback for Lopez Obrador.
With violence averted on September 15-16, Calderon has ten weeks to negotiate a peaceful transition with the FAP. Additionally, he will continue efforts to forge a lasting coalition, offering cabinet positions in exchange for long-term legislative support. Calderon has stated that he will make public his cabinet a few hours before taking office.
Two dangers loom if Lopez Obrador maintains his position, and the FAP does not fragment:
•FAP legislators could stop Calderon taking the oath before Congress, as on September 1 they stopped Fox delivering his State of the Union address. The constitution states that the presidential term starts on December 1, but the swearing-in should take place before Congress. It is unclear what would happen if this were not allowed. While it would not trigger the appointment of an interim president and new election, it would create a legal quandary.
•Lopez Obrador has been radicalizing his agenda. He probably will instruct the FAP, particularly the PRD, to obstruct further opening of the energy sector, liberalization of agricultural trade scheduled for 2008 under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and privatizations. Although the FAP lacks the seats needed to block legislation, this would leave the Calderon administration heavily dependent on a fragile PRI and other small parties.
Lopez Obrador’s designation as “legitimate president” may represent a peak in his support. FAP members will face increasing pressure to abandon his radical positions and contradictory strategy. Lopez Obrador apparently believes he has enough strength to reach an agreement with the government that would give him the chance of becoming president before 2012. However, his posturing creates dangers for the incoming Calderon administration in the form of a difficult, or contentious, investiture, and medium-term difficulties approving structural reforms.
Oxford Analytica is an international consulting firm providing strategic analysis on world events for business and government leaders. See www.oxan.com.