Mexico's president-elect calls for unity, begins forming government

Wednesday, September 6th 2006, 9:59 am
By: News On 6

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ Newly declared President-elect Felipe Calderon began building his government Wednesday and his supporters called on backers of leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to end weeks of national protests over the disputed July 2 election.

Calderon held a series of private meetings early Wednesday and was scheduled to meet with President Vicente Fox later in the day to discuss the transition to his new government and next year's budget, said Fox's spokesman, Ruben Aguilar.

Aguilar said President Bush called Fox early Wednesday to congratulate him on the end of a lengthy electoral process and the ``strength of Mexico's democracy.''

But weeks of angry rhetoric and tensions were likely to continue, as Lopez Obrador vowed to never recognize Calderon as Mexico's leader and said he would instead create his own parallel government. Trying to counter more than a month of protest camps in favor of Lopez Obrador, Calderon's supporters planned to form a human chain Wednesday to urge the nation to support a peaceful transition.

In an interview late Tuesday with Mexico's Televisa television network, Calderon said he would begin forming a government ``immediately'' but would take his time choosing a Cabinet, announcing his choices ``very likely in the hours close to the swearing-in'' on Dec. 1.

He said he would be looking for ``honest people ... capable people, people who are loyal to the (administration's) plan, and to Mexico.''

Always confident of his eventual victory, Calderon has been quietly drawing up transition plans since the days that followed the election. Lopez Obrador's supporters and allied parties have said they will try to block the handover, just as they kept Fox from giving his last state-of-the-nation address Friday.

The Federal Electoral Tribunal's decision rejected Lopez Obrador's allegations of systematic fraud and awarded Calderon the presidency by 233,831 votes out of 41.6 million cast _ a margin of 0.56 percent. The ruling cannot be appealed.

Calderon appeared confident and spoke forcefully in an appearance before cheering supporters hours after the court's decision was announced. His backers pumped their fists in the air, chanting ``Felipe! Felipe!'' and a mariachi band regaled him at the end of his speech.

The 44-year-old former energy secretary and career politician promised during his campaign to follow his predecessor's free-market, pro-business policies in order to create jobs, keep the economy growing and fight poverty.

But his first public speech as president-elect was dominated by overtures to his opponents, whom he implored to join him in closing the huge class and political divisions that widened during the tense, two-month wait for the tribunal's decision.

``Being Mexican is always more important than being a member of a political party,'' he said, adding that ``closing the door to dialogue is closing the door on Mexico.''

Calderon announced three major initiatives aimed in part at winning over those who didn't vote for him: reducing poverty, fighting crime and improving the economy.

He also reiterated ``my respect and my willingness to dialogue'' with Lopez Obrador, telling Televisa, ``I recognize that he has a genuine concern for the situation of poverty in which millions of Mexicans are living.

But Lopez Obrador rejected Calderon as president-elect.

``I do not recognize someone who tries to act as the chief federal executive without having a legitimate and democratic representation,'' he told thousands of supporters in Mexico's main Zocalo plaza who chanted: ``Felipe, the people don't want you!''

World leaders, including the prime ministers of Japan and Belgium and several Central American presidents, congratulated Calderon on his victory.

The White House said Mexico's democratic institutions, especially the Federal Electoral Tribunal, have proved themselves ``strong and capable of reflecting the will of the people of Mexico.''

``We congratulate Felipe Calderon on his victory and look forward to working with him and his team,'' the White House said.