Mexico goes back to the future as old rulers return to power
Mexico’s old rulers have regained power after 12 years in opposition but will have to forge alliances with other parties to push through reforms after winning the presidency by a much narrower margin than polls had forecast.
Enrique Pena Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) declared himself winner of Sunday’s poll after a quick count by Mexico’s electoral authorities gave him a clear lead.
Promising to reinvigorate the economy and cut rampant drug violence, the telegenic 45-year-old will take office in December for a six-year term as president, restoring the party that dominated Mexican politics for most of the past century, at times ruthlessly.
Opinion polls in the last few days before the election had forecast Mr Pena Nieto winning by a margin of ten to 15 percentage points, but actual results put him only 5.4 points ahead of his leftist rival, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Mr Pena Nieto had 37.6 per cent, compared with 32.2 per cent for Mr Lopez Obrador and 25.4 per cent for ruling party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota.
“Mexicans have given our party another chance. We are going to honour it with results,” a visibly moved Mr Pena Nieto told followers packed inside the PRI headquarters in Mexico City, where confetti rained down on jubilant supporters.
Outgoing president Felipe Calderon congratulated Mr Pena Nieto on his triumph.
The conservative Calderon’s ruling National Action Party (PAN) suffered a crushing defeat, hurt by his failure to bolster economic growth and curb the fierce violence of a drug war that has killed tens of thousands of people and battered Mexico’s image.
Although the PRI earned a reputation for unscrupulous and often corrupt politics when it ruled between 1929 and 2000, its 71-year stranglehold on power allowed it to sell itself in this campaign as the party that best knows how to govern.
And its candidate, renowned as much for his unfailingly well-groomed appearance as his political skills, persuaded many voters that his party has learned the lessons of its past.
It was still unclear how the parties would stack up in Congress, but the incomplete results suggested the PRI could struggle to capture a working majority, leaving it reliant on other parties to pursue its reform agenda.
Having run Mexico as a virtual one-party state for most of the 20th century, the PRI was kicked from power 12 years ago and was seen by many as near extinction when it finished in third place in the 2006 presidential vote. But Mr Pena Nieto, a handsome former state governor, gave it a candidate to rally round and he had led opinion polls for more than two years.
The PAN raised high hopes when it was elected in 2000, but the economy has grown only at an average of 2 per cent a year since then and the drug war has battered Calderon’s reputation.
“Nothing has improved since the PAN got in,” said Mexico City plumber Raimundo Salazar, 44. “The PRI understands how things work here. And it knows how to manage the drug gangs.”
Mr Pena Nieto built his reputation as governor of the state of Mexico, where he oversaw solid economic growth and brought down the state government’s debt. But to his critics, he is a product created by Mexico’s main TV companies to serve as a proxy for big business and the ruling elites in the PRI.
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