- Special Pages
Known for grabbing headlines for its decades-long drug war, Mexico, these days is in the news for an entirely different reason. The Central American nation of 112 million has elected Enrique Pena Nieto as its president. Belonging to the Institutional Revolutionary Party(PRI), the youthful leader seems to have infused a dose of excitement among the citizens of the country where crime is rampant and development tardy. Newspapers and tabloids in the region are full of glamorous photos of Pena Nieto with his actress wife Angelica Rivera setting off a soap-opera-like unfolding of the leader’s colourful personal life. Nieto was the governor of Mexico state from 2005 to 2011 and enjoys a record of breaking the PRI mould of nepotism and tight control over government resources. Nieto’s six-year rule over the state helped violence-hit and politically tired Mexicans smell a change in the way the administration behaves in the country where poverty is endemic.
Nieto’s detractors have not spared any effort to undermine his efforts to break from the past of his party that ruled the country for most of the 20th century. Mexico’s political history in the last century is replete with PRI’s hegemony over power and its manipulation of the poll machinery for electoral gains. It ruled for 71 years with a combination of repression and corruption prompting the Peruvian Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa to call it “the perfect dictatorship” because elections were rigged in a way not to make it obvious and the party by stifling dissent made sure that its rule was not challenged. But Nieto, armed with his progressive record as the governor of the important state baulks at the idea that the revival of PRI will bring back the dark days of the 20th century. He has been heard taking pains to emphasise that his party has changed and so has Mexico.
His closest rival Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador is still refusing to accept the results of the July 1 election. But Nieto is going ahead with his presidential agenda, announcing programmes and trying to energise party cadres for the rule ahead even though he the swearing in to replace current president Felipe Calderon is to take place in December.
Half of Mexico’s population lives in poverty and inequality is rampant. Nieto faces an uphill task not only on the development front but also on the drugs war frontier. The narcotics mafia has become bold to the extent of intimidating newspaper houses to keep drugs-related news low key. Not long ago, the mafia hung nine bodies from a bridge in the border town of Nuevo Laredo, sending a chilling message to its rivals.
The US has pledged millions to Mexico to fight the drug cartels. The incoming president would be under pressure from Washington to eliminate corruption from the armed forces and raise the heat on drug crimes. If Nieto can fight the mafia and bring down drug-related crime considerably in the first few months of his rule, Mexicans would never forget him even if his party’s performance on other development indicators is mediocre.