Leading article: A divided nation

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If President Bush has anything to say on the final result of the Mexican election it should be limited to advising the new conservative leader there, Felipe Calderon, how he should manage a victory which was won by the thinnest of margins, remains hotly disputed by the opposition and has only finally been decided two months later by the courts.

The simple advice should be to start reaching out to the other parties and build a consensual centre right now. Bush had the advantage in 2000 of winning in a country that at least recognises the courts as the final arbiter of the constitution and instinctively rallies round its President once he has been formally elected. Whether the defeated parties in Mexico act as graciously is doubtful. Ever since the Mexican election on 2 July, the opposition candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has cried foul and taken to the streets in an effort to overthrow the final count by brute, popular force.

Yesterday's draft decision by the Federal Electoral Tribunal to confirm Mr Calderon as the new President, albeit by a margin of less than 1 per cent of the popular vote, should in theory be the end of the matter and anyone who cares for the country might well hope that it will be. While the rest of the world - Washington in particular - has fussed away at whether Mexico would join the left-wing, populist wave now sweeping Latin America, the real concern should be for the people of Mexico. The end of one-party rule, greater liberalisation of the economy, rising energy prices and membership of the North American Free Trade Agreement have not brought it the kind of prosperity that many had hoped. Nor has the politics been helped by the deep class divide between the parties. In refusing to recognise the results of this election, Mr Lopez Obrador is voicing the kind of anger and frustration of the people left out of free market economic progress that we are witnessing right across Central and South America.

Whether Mr Calderon is the man to overcome his country's divisions remains to be seen. He has the advantage of experience in oil and economic management. His party has the largest number of seats in the Congress. There is much in Mexico's conditions that he could put right, if he has the will to introduce economic reform and the skill to bring the majority of the population with him. But he faces a hard climb and a particularly scrappy beginning. The first thing he needs to do is present himself as a President of all Mexico, not just the representative of a particular class and business faction, still less as a creature of America's regional ambitions - an image which he seemed too readily to present during the election and its immediate aftermath.

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