Correction to This Article
A Sept. 8 editorial misstated who blocked Mexican President Vicente Fox from delivering an annual address to Congress. It was supporters of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, not of president-elect Felipe Calderón.

Mexico's President-Elect

Friday, September 8, 2006

FELIPE CALDERÓN, who finally was certified this week as the winner of Mexico's presidential election, reacted in just the right way. In his first speech after the unanimous decision of the Federal Electoral Judicial Tribunal upholding his narrow victory, Mr. Calderon focused on what his government would do for the country. "If something demands urgent action and all the power of the Mexican state, it is taking care of millions of families who still live in poverty," said the president-elect. In doing so, he clearly distinguished himself from leftist populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who claims to represent the poor but has set himself an entirely different goal: overthrowing the democratic system. "To hell with the institutions" is Mr. López Obrador's new slogan.

If Mr. Calderón keeps focusing on Mexicans' needs while his opponent trumpets his own, Mexico may just get through its political crisis without serious damage. Already many of those who voted for Mr. López Obrador are tiring of his attempt to reverse the results of an election that was clearly free and fair; polls show that if the vote were reheld now he would lose by a far larger margin. Members of Mr. López Obrador's own party ought to be wearying of him, too: After all, the same election he condemns gave them unprecedented gains in Congress as well as control over Mexico City. Some of those who supported Mr. López Obrador's post-election campaign, both in Mexico and in the United States, claimed their goal was to strengthen Mexico's democracy. If so, they now should feel bound to abandon a leader who is openly seeking to overturn that fragile system.

Mr. López Obrador will probably seek to reverse his slide toward irrelevance by provoking violence. He plans to form a parallel government at a rally staged in the path of the military's annual independence day parade next week. Mr. Calderón and outgoing president Vicente Fox, who will serve until Dec. 1, should sidestep such confrontations, as Mr. Fox deftly did last week when Mr. Calderón's supporters prevented him from delivering an annual address to Congress.

Instead, Mr. Calderón should elaborate and make public detailed proposals to deliver on his promise to the poor. These could include an expansion of Mr. Fox's program of providing subsidies to poor families who ensure that their children attend school, and patches in Mexico's spare safety net, especially for the elderly. But Mr. Calderón should also prepare a push for free-market reforms that can enable faster growth: Fixes in Mexico's antiquated labor laws could help create many new jobs. The new president is a relatively uncharismatic man, but one who has shown determination and the ability to overcome political obstacles through intelligence and hard work. He will need those qualities in the months ahead.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company