Originally Published 2012-07-05 00:00:00 Published on Jul 05, 2012
Enrique Peña Nieto, the young and telegenic candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has been elected Mexico's next president with about 38% of the popular vote. His closest competitor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD).
Mexican Elections:  Return of the Old Guard?
Enrique Peña Nieto, the young and telegenic candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has been elected Mexico’s next president with about 38% of the popular vote. His closest competitor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), lagged behind with only 31% of the votes, with the ruling National Action Party’s (PAN) Josefina Vazquez Mota coming in a distant third. Peña Nieto fashioned himself as the new face of the PRI, which had ruled Mexico for 71 years in the 20th century. Many trust him, and more warily his party, with the task of improving the lagging economy and bringing stability to a nation that has seen more than 50,000 murdered during the incumbent President, Felipe Calderon’s, war on drugs.

Vasquez Mota’s campaign was hobbled to a large extent by her connection to Calderon and his extremely unpopular war on drugs as well as his patchy record in handling the economy. Lopez Obrador, on the other hand, was hurt by the sentiment that he and his party, the leftist PRD, are not ready to be in power. Lopez Obrador lost the 2006 elections to Calderon by as little as 0.5% of the popular vote. He had refused to concede the elections, instead organizing mass protests which paralyzed Mexico City, and even naming himself the ’Legitimate’ president and naming his shadow cabinet of advisors. These actions might have hurt the PRD’s chances; even though the policy promises of higher taxes on mining companies, a national old-age pension and a national construction programme to stimulate growth were well received within the electorate. Lopez Obrador has once again refused to accept the results till they are completely scrutinized legally and through a recount.

Peña Nieto, on his part has promised an agenda of stability, reform and growth. He has made it his aim to achieve an annual growth rate of at least 6% and has also called for reforms within the state-run oil monopoly,Petróleos de México, commonly referred to as ’Pemex’, so as to attract more investors. It was Peña Nieto’s PRI which nationalized oil production in 1938 and till recently any talk of allowing private or foreign investors even a minority stake in Pemex was considered unacceptable. Peña Nieto has been critical of the social effects of the ’war on drugs’, as the brutal crackdown on drug cartels has been dubbed. He has promised to concentrate first on bringing down the violence Mexico has been plunged into, with thousands having fled areas like Juarez that have been stuck in between the security forces and the drug cartels. He has long-term plans for a National Gendarmerie of soldier-police as well as more uniform and professional training of the nation’s judges, prosecutors and police forces.

Many of these plans are considered to be similar to Calderon’s current plansand many feel that Peña Nieto’s promise to end violence might mean that he will go easy on the drug cartels, much as the PRI did in the late 20th century. The PRI’s 71-year reign, which has been referred to as ’the perfect dictatorship’, was synonymous in Mexico with large-scale corruption, vote rigging and tacit connections to the underworld. This has led many to fear that Peña Nieto’s victory might be a step backwards for Mexico’s democracy, which many see as having awakened only when the PAN defeated the PRI in 2000. Peña Nieto has claimed to be the new generation of the PRI, but these claims have been questioned in the weeks leading up to polling. Allegations that the media, especially the influential Televisa Network, have been favouring Peña Nieto, have sparked off student protests, which have spread all over the country. A YouTube video critical of Peña Nieto which features 131 university students gave birth to the "yo soy 132" movement. Many citizens who are wary of the PRI and its history have taken up this movement, which literally means "I am number 132."

Peña Nieto has praised all opposition as a healthy sign for democracy in Mexico. Many observers of Mexico also feel that Mexican society as well as political structures have changed in many ways over the last twelve years, and are of the view that the PRI will be unable to rein in democracy and go back to its old ways. Cesar Camacho of the PRI-linked Colosio Foundation maintains that Peña Nieto is part of a new generation of politicians, and that the PRI itself has changed because they "have been pushed by society to change". This argument does not seem to have convinced everyone, with many intellectuals seeing Peña Nieto as nothing more than a pretty mask for the same old PRI.

Peña Nieto is faced with an extremely daunting task as he takes on the role of president. He has made many promises and he will need to work very cleverly to ensure that he can deliver on them. Even though he is expected to have the support of both houses of the legislature, fixing the economy, ensuring stability and maintaining a clean and corruption-free image for his tenure will be an onerous task. Added to this will be pressure from the United States, which is not only a major trading partner but also a source of aid for the Mexican government. While the Americans do not seem to be worried that Peña Nieto will stray from his parties free market policies, the PRI has a history of diplomatic independence which many in the US are wary of. Peña Nieto has promised a bright future for Mexico, he has promised a Mexico "where every Mexican writes his own success story". He will need to fulfillthis promise, while also creating a more perfect democracy, thus rejecting any vested interests within his party, if he hopes to keep the support of his people.

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