Mexico’s new president must act quickly to ensure economic growth


Mexico’s Federal Electoral Judicial Tribunal has unanimously ruled that Felipe Calderon of the National Action Party (PAN) won the July 2 election as president.

In many ways this marks a triumph for democratic procedures and transparency in Mexico. International observers agreed this was perhaps the fairest election in Mexico’s history, a challenge from the losing candidate was explored extensively and a reasonably independent tribunal has spoken confidently, acknowledging mistakes but ruling out fraud.

Unfortunately, this remarkably fair procedure is still being besmirched by the losing candidate. Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD) is still contesting the result, calling Calderon an “illegitimate president,” and planning an assembly on Saturday that will declare him president of a hazily conceived but indubitably disruptive “parallel” government.

His supporters are sufficiently organized and militant that they prevented outgoing President Vicente Fox from presenting his annual state of the union message in person earlier this month.

While Lopez Obrador can still draw crowds, however, the crowds are getting smaller. And a recent poll by the Mexican newspaper Reforma showed that 68 percent of Mexicans disapprove of Lopez Obrador’s civil resistance and that, if the election were held now, Calderon would prevail (in the same five-party match-up) by a 43-29 margin.

If Lopez Obrador really cared about democracy he would call off the protests now. The same election he is calling illegitimate put more members of his party into the legislature than ever before, where they will have significant influence if not ultimate power. Democracy may be far from perfect, but if you play that game you should abide by the rules.

Even if Lopez Obrador calls off the protests, Calderon will have a difficult job. The closeness of the vote indicates that about a third of Mexicans distrust him. He must take them into account when he governs.

His best bet would be to act quickly to increase the openness of markets and economic competition. Vicente Fox managed to stabilize Mexico’s economy but was unable to institute many promised reforms. Mexico’s economy is still too much dominated by “crony capitalists” who use their political clout to limit competition and enrich themselves.

Privatizing Pemex, the Mexican oil monopoly, may not be politically feasible, but deregulating telecommunications and other industries should not be impossible. The path out of poverty (and, importantly, the reduction of immigration pressures in the United States) is economic growth, which can best be enhanced by reducing government interference and favoritism.

It won’t be easy, but the longer Calderon delays, the harder the task will become.