Mexico's new leftist-majority Congress sworn in

Jean Luis ARCE

Mexico's first leftist-majority Congress was sworn in Wednesday, swept into office on the coattails of President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a July election that punished the country's political establishment.

Cheering and chanting Lopez Obrador's name, lawmakers from the coalition led by his recently founded party, Morena, took the oath of office in the lower house -- where they will now be the dominant force.

The ceremony in the Senate was more solemn, but the balance of power there is the same: Lopez Obrador will now be the first president in Mexico's modern democracy to have an absolute majority in both houses of Congress.

"The people have voted, they have said what they want, and that is the road we must now walk," said Tatiana Clouthier, a close adviser to Lopez Obrador who was elected to the lower house, the Chamber of Deputies.

Clouthier said the majority's first legislative priority was to amend the law to allow Lopez Obrador to change the structure of the president's cabinet, including by creating a new public security ministry to deal with horrific levels of violent crime.

"Then we'll start with other major changes," she said.

The new legislative session opens Saturday. Lopez Obrador, however, will not take office until December 1.

Mexican voters delivered a stinging rebuke to the country's establishment parties in the July 1 elections, outraged by a seemingly endless string of corruption scandals and record crime driven by the country's brutally violent drug cartels.

Lopez Obrador won with 53 percent of the vote, more than 30 points clear of his nearest rival.

The former Mexico City mayor whisked the presidency away from the two parties that have governed Mexico for the past 89 years -- the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and conservative National Action Party (PAN).

Morena, which Lopez Obrador founded just four years ago, and its coalition allies will have 307 of the 500 seats in the lower house and 69 of the 128 seats in the Senate.

It is the first absolute majority since 1994, when Mexico was a one-party state governed by the PRI.

- 'New reality' -

The new Congress is "historic," according to Gerardo Fernandez Norona, a member of the radical wing of Lopez Obrador's coalition.

The Mexican left "is going to take all those dreams and commitments we've been pushing for in decades of struggle, and make them reality," he said.

The ruling PRI party, left licking its wounds, was meanwhile preparing for its newly diminished role as the third force in Congress.

"It's a new reality. We have to get used to our new place on the political map," said Rene Juarez, who stepped down as party leader after the elections and will now lead its delegation in the lower house.

"We will be a critical, vigilant but constructive opposition," he said.

Lopez Obrador appears to be within reach of negotiating a two-thirds majority, which would enable him to change the constitution.

Three parties that ran in an ideologically awkward left-right coalition -- the PAN and the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution and Citizens' Movement -- have announced they are breaking up.

That would appear to give the president-elect an easy path to pick up more votes.