Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Mexico President-Elect Challenged by Split Congress, Lack of Mandate

In a press conference Monday, Mexico President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto said one of his first priorities will be pushing several economic reforms through Congress. As Reuters details, these principally include “allowing more private investment in Mexico's state-run oil industry, overhauling the tax system to improve government revenues and liberalizing the country's labour laws to encourage job creation.” But without a majority in Congress, Peña Nieto and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will have a difficult time passing the initiatives, Reuters concludes. 

As the Financial Times points out in a brief note, Peña Nieto’s election could herald a significant change in how state oil company Pemex is run, thanks to the president-elect’s promise to “open up” the company to private investment. But it is worth bearing in mind that Peña Nieto’s predecessor, President Felipe Calderon, made similar promises, and was unable to get them through Congress. Considering that about 60 percent of Mexico’s population voted for candidates other than Peña Nieto, the president-elect does not enter office with a strong mandate. This, along with the ambition of Peña Nieto’s proposed economic reforms, means that his ultimate goal of helping the economy grow six percent by 2015 is “unrealistic,” financial analysts told Reuters.

Peña Nieto also received congratulatory calls from world leaders, including US President Barack Obama. The Washington Post reports that while Peña Nieto did reach out to some US politicians during his campaign (particularly those based in US border states), for many in the US he is something of an “enigma.” This is partly because he has no track record on foreign policy. The New York Times also describes Peña Nieto as an “unknown quantity,” in an article that traces that politician’s early life and career, noting that, asides from one report that “in quiet times the leader enjoys listening to Abba and Celine Dion,” it is unknown whether he has hobbies or interests outside of politics.

Two of the top questions facing the president-elect is what a Peña Nieto presidency means for the US, and what it means for Mexico’s war against organized crime. A Republican member of Congress from Texas, whom the Post describes as “one of the few U.S. lawmakers who has a relationship with the Mexican president-elect,” told the Post that Peña Nieto has acted particularly concerned over US allegations that his presidency would represent a weakening in Mexico’s resolve to go after the drug cartels. “Let’s put such worries to rest,” Peña Nieto wrote in an Op-ed published by the New York Times. As for security, analyst Alejandro Hope told Global Post that, asides from Peña Nieto’s vague promises to continue the war against the cartels and reform the police force, “sincere improvements to security will have to come from PRI politicians themselves.”

In other foreign coverage of the election results, there were few predictions that a Peña Nieto presidency would face anything other than an uphill climb. Foreign Policy notes that the election could be indicative of a regional trend:

“Mexico has now followed Guatemala's lead. Instead of trying something new and joining the "pink tide" of progressive social democratic politics that has swept through Latin America in recent years, a plurality of Mexicans has apparently succumbed to frustration and turned back to the past.”

The article then argues that there are a few signs suggesting that Peña Nieto will be capable of further establishing the rule of law in Mexico, nor will he be capable of limiting the influence of the PRI’s authoritarian “dinosaurs.” James Bosworth points out that unlike the campaign, Peña Nieto now faces an unscripted presidency, and the unscripted moments of his campaign is precisely where he most faltered.

While the Organization of American States praised Mexico’s elections, leftist presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he would not concede defeat, describing the process as “rife with irregularities.” While Lopez Obrador has not yet called for his supporters to protest the election results, as occurred in 2006, the youth movement that calls itself #YoSoy132 is camping out in Mexico City and loudly criticizing the election results, reports Proceso.

Noted academic and former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda told the Wall Street Journal that Lopez Obrador will likely mount a legal challenge to the vote. "This will make life miserable for Peña Nieto, for the markets, for foreign governments, for people putting together a transition team, for everybody," Castañeda told the newspaper.(Castañeda also had an opinion piece run in the Washington Post). In a separate piece, the Wall Street Journal asks what Lopez Obrador’s rejection of the election outcome could mean for the Peña Nieto’s agenda in Congress.

Governing party the National Action Party (PAN) was quick to admit defeat, after candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota finished in third; the party also lost seats in the Senate and the lower house of Congress. In its round-up of the election results, the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars concludes that the PAN’s inability to overcome its internal divisions contributed to its defeat. But while the PAN was pummeled, the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) enjoyed a landslide win in Mexico City.

News Briefs

  • About 50 people were injured in clashes between students and police in Guatemala City, as students studying to be teachers demonstrated against a proposed education reform that would lengthen the time it takes to receive their degrees from three years to five, reports the BBC.
  • Venezuela’s presidential campaign formally began Monday, and Univision has a new section dedicated to tracking every twist and turn. 
  • Following Paraguay’s dismissal from Mercosur, new President Federico Franco called the suspension “illegal and illegitimate,” reports Mercopress.
  • Western Mexico faces an outbreak of avian flu which is said to pose no risk to humans, reports Reuters. The disease has reportedly killed 870,000 birds so far and has been detected in 10 industrial poultry farms in Jalisco state. 
  • According to Colombia Reports, on Monday US authorities revealed an investigation which links the former head of Colombia’s anti-narcotics police unit with crime group the Oficina de Envigado. 
  • About a year after a Brazilian judge was shot in front of her house, in a killing believed connected to her tough rulings against organized crime, the number of judges who have reported receiving threats has gone up to 150, reports the AP
  • The AP on an ambitious program in Peru meant to provide children in public schools with laptops, which the Inter-American Development Bank has called largely ineffective. 
  • Tim’s El Salvador Blog reports on the deepening judicial crisis in El Salvador, where a chamber of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, has ruled that the judges appointed to the Supreme Court by the National Assembly in 2006 and 2012 are unconstitutional. This means that El Salvador essentially has two groups of judges, each claiming to be the Supreme Court. 
  • A recent briefing by the Mexico Institute examines legal migration from Mexico to the US, concluding that many immigrants have long been eligible to apply for US citizenship, but often those who have settled in rural areas have less access to the services that would facilitate this process. 
  • Infosur reports on the environmental damage resulting from the 22 attacks that rebel group the FARC have carried out against oil pipelines so far this year. In 2011, the FARC were blamed for 84 attacks on oil pipelines. 
  • Fox News Latino looks at a case of a Juarez family applying for asylum from Mexico’s drug war in the US, noting that only five percent of asylum applications from Mexico were approved last year.