August 31, 2006 10:04 pm

Fox urged to drop speech to Congress

Several of Mexico’s newly elected Congress members have warned Vicente Fox, the outgoing president, not to give his annual state-of-the-nation address on Friday night, to avoid growing tension over last month’s disputed presidential elections.

Mr Fox, who leaves office in December after six years in power, confirmed this week that he planned to go ahead with the speech despite the increasingly tense atmosphere since the July 2 vote.

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According to the official count, Felipe Calderón, the centre-right candidate and a member of Mr Fox’s National Action party (PAN), narrowly beat Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftwing Democratic Revolution party (PRD).

Mr López Obrador claims the election was fraudulent, and has accused Mr Fox of being “a traitor to democracy” for supposedly abusing his presidential power to boost the chances of Mr Calderón.

Two weeks ago, Mr López Obrador’s supporters tried to set up a camp outside the lower house of Congress as part of the leftwing campaigner’s “civil resistance” movement to protest against the election.

Violent clashes with federal police followed and there has been a heavy police presence outside the Congress ever since.

Several Congress members from different parties have advised Mr Fox to avoid potentially chaotic scenes by handing in a written address rather than reading it out.

Emilio Gamboa, who heads the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) in the lower house, said: “The atmosphere is very tense, and I don’t think he should read the address.”

On Thursday, PRD Congress members admitted they were discussing the possibility of frustrating Mr Fox’s plans to read out the address.

Javier González, leader of the PRD in the lower house, told the Financial Times: “We could make enough noise to drown him out or we could take over the Congress itself to stop him from giving the address. But we still haven’t decided whether we will let him speak or not.”

On Monday, the Federal Electoral Tribunal confirmed it would not accept Mr López Obrador’s demands to recount all the votes cast in July’s election.

The electoral tribunal has yet to declare a winner – it must do so by September 6 – but analysts saw Monday’s ruling as a clear message that the tribunal would sooner or later confirm Mr Calderón as Mexico’s president-elect.

A day later, Mr Calderón’s PAN party stitched together a congressional alliance with the PRI that had the effect of denying Mr López Obrador’s party, now the second biggest in Congress, a voice in the two bodies that control the lower house’s political and budgetary policies.

The immediate effect of the alliance will be to deny the PRD the right to reply to Friday night’s presidential address – a practice that has traditionally fallen to the party with the second-largest presence in the chamber

“The only thing we wanted was to have the possibility of the president hearing us,” said Mr González on Thursday. “Now they have denied that right and we are deciding how to respond.”

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