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What Awaits Mexico if the PRI Sweeps the July 1 Elections?

By Andrés Rozental, James R. Jones, Andrew Selee, and George W. Grayson
Latin America Advisor, May 29, 2012

Q: The Institutional Revolutionary Party, with its allied Green Party, is poised to win a majority of the seats in both houses of Mexico's Congress in national elections this July, according to a poll released May 11 by Consulta Mitofsky. PRI presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto has been running more than 20 percentage points ahead of competitors Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD and Josefina Vázquez Mota of the ruling PAN party in recent polls. What types of legislative changes or reforms would result from PRI control of Mexico's presidency and both chambers of its Congress? Will the PRI re-establish the dominance that it enjoyed for seven decades? Can the PAN and PRD regroup, or will new parties and alliances form should the PRI sweep the election?    

 

A: Andrés Rozental member of the Advisor board, president of Rozental & Asociados in Mexico City and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: "In spite of large student demonstrations against Enrique Peña Nieto and the PRI over the last week, most polls show he is leading by anywhere between 15 and 20 percent over the second-place candidate. If the trend holds for the next 33 days until the July 1 elections, the PRI and Green Party could well win a simple majority of seats in both houses of Congress. Although this would not automatically give a new administration the ability to pass laws and reforms that have been stuck in the legislature over the past 12 years, it does allow the executive branch more leeway in proposing and passing legislation. This will depend on being able to hold the PRI-PVEM coalition together for the more important initiatives and also to try to get support from other parties and independents in Congress. Peña Nieto has made energy and fiscal reforms priorities if elected, while some other changes to labor and political reform seem not to have the same urgency in his view. There are numerous legislative initiatives that are in the 'freezer' in one or another of Congress' houses which might also be on the top of a new administration's agenda. How the PAN and PRD behave under a PRI government is an open question. It is useful to remember that when the PAN was in the opposition, it opposed PRI-sponsored energy reform, while the PRD has been opposed all along to any substantive changes to Pemex and the Federal Electricity Commission. The margin by which both these parties lose will determine their strength, either individually or in ad hoc alliances, to act as counterweights to a PRI majority in Congress. The one thing that must be reiterated, however, is that any changes to the Mexican Constitution require a two-thirds majority in Congress and that will be difficult to achieve on highly contentious political issues."

 

A: James R. Jones, member of the Advisor board and co-chair of Manatt Jones Global Strategies: "Unless Peña Nieto makes a major campaign mistake, it appears that the PRI is headed for a blow-out election victory, winning both the presidency and a majority of Congress. It also appears that the Peña Nieto brain trust headed by Luis Videgaray is planning to pass some major reforms early on. In fact, there is some hope that the PRI leadership in Congress will actually pass significant reforms when the new Congress convenes in September and before the inauguration of the next president in December. Most talked about reforms are in opening the energy sector to more private investment, amending the labor laws to permit more flexibility and further reforming the fiscal laws to garner more tax revenue. Also being considered are laws strengthening competition and restricting dominant companies in key economic sectors, accelerating the implementation of judicial reforms to make a more transparent legal system and certain adjustments in the battle against criminal organizations to improve the government's effectiveness while reducing violence. While many of the old-time PRI remain in important advisory roles, this PRI headed by Peña Nieto is truly different and seem ready to tackle many of the remaining issues that have prevented Mexico from attaining first-world status. In order to accomplish some of these reforms, a super majority of Congress will be needed to amend the Constitution. The PRI's simple majority cannot do that on its own. Peña Nieto seems to have planned for this and thinks he can piece together enough votes from other parties to get this done. Does such an outcome mean the demise of either the PAN or PRD? I think not. With Marcelo Ebrard clearly leading the PRD forward, the future looks stronger and many believe he will be the front runner going into the next presidential election in 2018. The PAN too will have to regroup, settle its internal differences and rally around a leader who can be the constructive opposition until the next election. As for U.S.-Mexican relations, I see it strengthening, especially in commercial relationships."    

     

A: Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington: "The return of the PRI, even a (seemingly likely) victory that includes winning one or both houses of Congress, is likely to open up some real opportunities for more rapid policy change but also introduce some historical vices into the political system again. On the positive side, a disciplined and focused PRI could tackle some difficult challenges, such as energy and fiscal reform, that have evaded divided governments over the last decade. This outcome is certainly not a given-the PRI is given to endless internal negotiation and compromise, which may produce the same kind of painfully gradual progress seen in recent years-but a determined PRI president might well be able to discipline his party on two or three major issues early on in the administration. However, nostalgia for the orderly, organized and authoritarian past also runs deep in some PRI circles, and there could be a declining tolerance of difference and dissent. Again, much would depend on the tone set by the president in his first days in office and the ability of Mexico's far more organized and vocal society and media to maintain lively spaces of debate."

A: George W. Grayson, professor of government at the College of William & Mary: "Enrique Peña Nieto will win big time, but it's impossible for the PRI to garner enough congressional seats to make constitutional reforms on its own. This will require coalition building, and the obscenely corrupt PVEM cannot provide a critical majority. The PAN is a better bet, at least on expected economic innovations. Yet its nominee, Josefina Vázquez Mota, has blasted Peña Nieto's coziness with dinosaurs who chug-a-lug from the budget trough and thwart development. Carlos Romero Deschamps, the super-rich honcho of the venal oil workers union, provides a flagrant example. His daughter Paulina's Facebook profile revealed that she owns a palatial home, hefts a Hermés purse, patronizes Louis Vuitton VIP salons and cruises on a yacht with her three English bulldogs. How does she luxuriate on a $1,895 monthly Pemex salary? Peña Nieto equivocated when queried about her princessly lifestyle, saying her dad 'is a leader who has worked and who enjoys the respect of his syndicate.' Among unsavory figures in his entourage are Arturo Montiel (Mexico State), Mario Marín (Puebla), Miguel Ángel Osorio (Hidalgo) and Ivonne Ortega (Yucatán). Peña Nieto may need these ex- and current governors to triumph, but will he cross swords with them once in office? His naming Dr. Claudio X. González Guajardo to head the Education Ministry would be a positive move in a sector hamstrung by arrogant cacique Elba Esther Gordillo. Its inept presidential campaign, poor candidate choice in Mexico City and gubernatorial losses in Jalisco and other bastions portend the PAN's sharp decline. In 2006, the left cohered in pursuit of payola from a López Obrador regime. Although often acting independently, the PRD-PT-MC coalition will win Mexico City's mayorship and, possibly, the Morelos and Tabasco governorships."