Mexican lawmakers seek end to standoff threatening swearing-in of new president

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 5:38 pm
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Opposition legislators sprawled across the congressional speaker's platform in their standoff with ruling conservatives Wednesday, vowing not to budge in hopes of blocking Friday's inauguration of President-elect Felipe Calderon.

Lawmakers representing the rival factions stormed the platform in Congress on Tuesday, and have occasionally shouted, pushed and thrown punches near the podium where President Vicente Fox is supposed to hand power to Calderon. President Bush was expected to attend.

Legislators on Wednesday lounged on the stage reading papers and talking on their cell phones. They left in shifts to take showers.

The opposition Democratic Revolution Party claims its candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, was cheated of victory by vote fraud in the July 2 presidential election. Party lawmakers hope to disrupt Calderon's inauguration ceremony, and ultimately prevent him from taking office.

The Mexican constitution says that presidents must be sworn in before Congress, but experts disagree over what that means. Some say it requires a majority of members of Congress to be present, while others say the congressional leader, Sen. Jorge Zermeno of Calderon's conservative National Action Party, could perform the ceremony himself.

Sen. Manlio Fabio Beltrones, a leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, suggested holding the ceremony elsewhere. Most Mexican presidents of the 20th century were sworn in at large theaters or stadiums rather than the building that houses Mexico's federal Congress.

Fox and other ruling party members have argued that Calderon will become president Friday with or without an inaugural ceremony.

Sen. Zermeno said he hopes legislators supporting Calderon and Obrador could negotiate a solution that would allow Friday's inauguration.

But Sen. Raymundo Cardenas of the Democratic Revolution Party said his party would try to prevent Calderon's swearing in, and in any case will not accept him as president.

``We're never going to recognize Felipe Calderon as president,'' he said. ``If he isn't sworn in ... he isn't president.''

Many opposition lawmakers, however, say they will work with Calderon even while disputing the fairness of his election. Most Democratic Revolution Party governors also favor cooperation as they challenge the vote.

The congressional standoff is another facet of the political storm that struck Mexico as the presidential vote concluded. Lopez Obrador and his supporters occupied Mexico City's center for months, protesting the official vote count.

Lopez Obrador has declared himself the country's ``legitimate'' president and has set up a parallel government to undermine Calderon's administration.

Ruling party legislators and their left-wing counterparts huddled Wednesday for talks on the speaker's platform, which was decorated with competing protest signs.

One opposition sign read: ``Mexico does not deserve a traitor to democracy as president.'' Another, from the ruling party, read: ``We are defending the law.''

``I think we can mend this despite these very embarrassing acts,'' a bleary-eyed Zermeno told the national TV Azteca network after spending the night in the chambers.

The congressional chaos began Tuesday afternoon when National Action legislators occupied the speaker's platform. They were trying to prevent left wing lawmakers from seizing the platform, as they did before Fox's Sept. 1 state-of-the-nation speech.

The outgoing president was forced to hand in a written report.

Democratic Revolution Party lawmakers quickly followed their conservative counterparts to the platform, and scuffles broke out.

Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar, said Wednesday the presidency laments the violence.

``This is not what the citizenry wants,'' he said.

The congressional standoff suggests that the nation remains deeply divided following the July 2 elections.