Monday, July 2, 2012

Enrique Peña Nieto captures Mexican presidency, returns Los Pinos to PRI

News Analysis - A win, but no mandate
"Esta noche, sí, ganó México - Tonight, Mexico won" - Enrique Peña Nieto

The president-elect made his first campaign stop on the Yucatán peninsula April 9, 2012, at the seaside town of Puerto Progreso.

Mérida, Yucatán --
A funny thing happened to Enrique Peña Nieto, the 45 year old ex-governor of the State of Mexico and leader of the country's powerful Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), on his way to fulfilling a boyhood dream of being elected president of the Republic of Mexico. He almost didn't make it.

The dashing candidate, whom runner up Andrés Manuel López Obrador once called a soap opera actor, captured 38% of the ballots cast, and beat his opponent by 6.3% - not the 18.4% predicted by the last major poll published on June 27. It wasn't a photo finish. But it wasn't a cakewalk, either, and it left no doubt that PRD is alive and well in this nation of 112 million. Enrique Peña Nieto scored a clear victory. He hardly won a mandate.

As of this hour López Obrador has not conceded the race. The other candidates did so early last evening.

Peña Nieto's victory returns the Mexican presidency to PRI, which lost the office in 2000 to former president Vicente Fox, one of the founding fathers of the modern National Action Party (PAN). PRI lost again in 2006 to outgoing PAN president Felipe Calderón. About 50 million voters, representing 60% of 84 million eligible, turned out at the polls yesterday to hand back to PRI the office which it held for 71 consecutive years in the 20th century.

Voting went smoothly with very few reported problems, and only minimal disturbances in a handful of isolated areas.

Early headwinds
Long before the formal campaign had even opened, Peña Nieto found himself challenged by a series of public relations gaffs which made him look dimwitted. A Mexican literary giant called him an intellectual lightweight who was ill-prepared to be president, and a PAN politician pegged him an "empty head." The candidate himself revealed a series of extra-marital affairs which produced two children during his first marriage, and soon after a tell-all biography alleged that Peña Nieto was a monumentally unfaithful man who "took his women to heaven but left them in hell." The candidate calmly responded by telling an interviewer in January that now he's "devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus."

PRI and the narcos
By far the greatest challenge for the candidate who audaciously referred to himself as "Mexico's Great Hope" was the recurrent allegation that the Institutional Revolutionary Party remains closely linked to Mexico's drug cartels, and that "Peña Nieto would crawl back into bed with them" if elected. The comment is attributed to president Felipe Calderón during an interview with the New York Times in Sept. 2011.

But the president-elect promised that he represents the new face of PRI, and that the modern Institutional Revolutionary Party will not return to admitted abuses of the past. He even published a 10 point creed of basic civil rights which he says he will enforce. And at least once on the campaign trail, EPN struck back at PAN on the issue of alleged narco connections.

Is EPN on the team or not?
Not a few in the United States expressed discomfort over the prospects of a PRI victory, including U.S. Sen. John McCain (R. Ariz.), who hinted earlier this year that Peña Nieto might not prove a team player on the drug war. The candidate himself dodged the issue for months, and played coy with U.S. vice president Joe Biden when the latter came calling in March, before finally stating in April that he plans to keep Mexican military forces heavily involved in operations against drug cartels and organized crime. He repeated and emphasized the point in a press conference this afternoon. "There will be no truce, no letup," he assured.

Three weeks ago the New York Times opined that the president-elect would usher in a different drug war approach, but it's far from clear that such is the case. It's much more likely, as MGRR has repeatedly told its readers, that Peña Nieto will stick with an offshoot of Calderón's National Security Strategy, with perhaps minor cosmetic changes. But the linchpin will continue to be the use of Mexico's armed forces against domestic criminals. That's particularly true since in the opinion of some experts, Mexico's drug war may be about to get much worse, and more decentralized (requiring the presence of military units in multiple locations). Many in the American press erred by painting EPN as a leader desperately looking for ways to abandon the 67 month old drug war.

Claims of favorable media coverage bought and paid for; and those pesky YoSoyers
The PRI candidate had plenty of last minute hurdles to jump over. In May a spontaneous, anti-establishment, student-driven movement known as YoSoy 132 made its first national appearance, and began to spread like wildfire across the political landscape. Ostensibly, YoSoy's message of protest was directed at the media - but it was obvious to all that the group was hostile to EPN. The Mexican public soon concluded that the "non-partisan" organization was heavily infiltrated by López Obrador supporters, made abundantly clear in Yucatán when the group staged its second protest in Mérida. (MGRR predicts that YoSoy's days are numbered. It will be but a footnote in Mexican electoral history.)

In a country where much of the press is really not so free, a late-in-the-game allegation was made by the respected British newspaper The Guardian, which said that mammoth Spanish language network Televisa has been on Peña Nieto's campaign payroll for years, hired to make him look irresistible (befitting Mexico's "Great Hope"). But the story got minimal coverage in this country and less in the U.S., though the paper claimed American diplomats in Mexico warned their bosses in 2009 about the president-elect's history of buying electronic media to deliver gold at the ballot box.

In the end, no one cared. In the end, none of it made any difference. Enrique Peña Nieto is the next president of Mexico. He will take office in five months. President Calderón has pledged his full cooperation as the nation changes its guard from PAN to PRI on Dec. 1.

July 8 - Rising protests against Enrique Peña Nieto
July 8 - Final count shows Peña Nieto won by 6.62% (Spanish)
July 2 - Andrés Manuel López Obrador calls election "dirty, a national shame"
July 1 - Mexico's IFE, others declare Enrique Peña Nieto the winner

A bit of political history> . . .
Mexico's last PRI president was Ernesto Zedillo (1994-2000). An economist, Zedillo is a professor at Yale. In late 2011 he was sued in a U.S. court by the survivors of indigenous Mexicans who were killed by armed forces during a regional uprising in the mid-1990s. The federal lawsuit, which alleges human rights violations based on international law, is pending. The Mexican government is defending Zedillo, and has asserted executive immunity on his behalf. The case is being closely monitored by human rights advocates in both countries.

Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo sued for 1997 Acteal massacre

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