Congratulations to Felipe Calderón (pictured above with my daughter) on a preliminary victory in México's Presidential election. This morning on NPR they mentioned that it is going to be a tough road ahead for Mr. Calderón, since the election was so close and thus there is no clear mandate. This took me back to the US election in 2000, when I was similarly struck by how the notion of a "mandate" is a frighteningly artificial construct.
From wikipedia: "Elections are often said to give the newly elected government or elected official a mandate to implement certain policies."
I suppose that if you have a huge majority voting for something (say environmental conservation, as in the 2000 US election if you add up Gore+Nader) then you have a clear "mandate" from your electorate that you need to pursue a certain agenda. To me the highly contested Mexican election signifies a mandate for healing the growing divisions between rich and poor. Lopez Obrador seems to have captured a large portion of the disaffected poor by essentially promising handouts (hmm... I'll give you money if you vote for me - where have I heard that before?), but the message to me is one of increasing discord. So even if there is not a clear majority of the electorate showing support for a particular set of policies, I think that the message they send is still clear enough to constitute a mandate.