Mexican President Felipe Calderon has lost his first scrape with the new Congress, and it hasn’t even been sworn in yet.
In a sign of the altered political map, Calderon postponed his annual state of the nation speech scheduled next week after lawmakers from the newly dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, objected to the timing.
Calderon, a conservative, had planned to deliver his address from the National Palace on Tuesday morning before a select audience; his office was already sending out invitations. Separately, his interior minister would go to Congress later in the day to present a written version of the report when the legislature opens.
But that plan rankled lawmakers from the PRI, who complained that Calderon had it backward. By law, they said, Congress should get the official report and then he could make a speech. The PRI, which ruled Mexico for seven decades until it was toppled in 2000, and a smaller party now control the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies after beating Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, in July elections. The PAN still holds the Senate.
After a flurry of haggling over the speech, the president yielded.
In a statement issued late Thursday, Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said Calderon would put off his speech until “a later date” so that Congress can get the written report first. Gomez Mont did not name a date, but Mexican news media said Calderon would hold the event a day later than planned, on Wednesday morning.
Mexican presidents used to appear before Congress’ opening session each Sept. 1 to deliver their annual report, or informe. But in recent years, the event has turned into the political equivalent of a food fight.
In 2007, Calderon got only as far as handing over a written version at the dais amid protests by leftist lawmakers who charged that his election victory the previous year had been tainted by fraud. His predecessor, Vicente Fox, didn’t make it past the front door to deliver his 2006 informe because of the uproar over Calderon’s election two months earlier.
Last year, Calderon took advantage of a new law that allows presidents to deliver the report in written form alone. He avoided Congress altogether.
Prior to this year’s report, the government has aired a series of television spots touting its handling of crime, jobs and healthcare. Calderon, whose term ends in 2012, and the strengthened PRI face urgent problems during the coming session, including a tanking economy, budget shortfalls, falling oil yields and a continuing drug war.
First, though, is what to do about those invitations.