Back to the future
MEXICO’S FIANNA Fáil, the oxymoronic Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has made the sort of political comeback that will delight and reassure our Soldiers of Destiny. Nihil desperandum, all is possible. Unofficial tallies show the PRI’s presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, winning Sunday’s election with 38 per cent of the vote, albeit a smaller margin than expected. There have also been claims, notably from his closest rival, leftist Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, of vote buying and other irregularities.
The PRI, a populist, centrist party, was born out of the Mexican revolution. It represented itself successfully over the years as embodying the “national” spirit, and, though once radical, became in its continuous 71 years in government a byword for cronyism, vote-rigging, corruption and authoritarianism. Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa once described government under the PRI as “la dictadura perfecta”, and after voters in 2000 at last threw it out, the party had to undergo a thorough rebranding. Twelve years on, Peña Nieto has found it necessary to promise a suspicious electorate that there would be “no return to the past”, and has done his best to distance himself from the ever-present “dinosaurs” of the party’s corrupt old leadership.
He insists that he will vigorously pursue the war on drugs that has claimed up to 60,000 lives in the last five years, and denies suggestions that PRI is likely to seek deals with the drug cartels: “There will be no pact or truce with organised crime.” To that end he has recruited a Colombian general who helped take down kingpin Pablo Escobar to lead the fight.
Although he has won the presidency, the PRI and its Green allies look unlikely to take a majority of seats in Congress, and so Peña Nieto will find implementing his programme of reform difficult. He has promised to open Pemex, the government-owned oil monopoly, to private investment and a string of tax, labour, fiscal and education reforms. Some are measures that the outgoing minority conservative PAN government attempted to push through but which PRI then blocked – whether Peña Nieto can now persuade the electorally battered PAN to give him his majority will be a test of the extent to which Mexico’s political culture is evolving.
He will find things different 12 years on. A more assertive Congress, media, judiciary, and civil society, a faltering economy and the bloody drugs war . . . the old ways will simply not work, and Peña Nieto has much to prove and little time to do it.