It is now official: Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) is president-elect of Mexico. The nation’s highest electoral court, the Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación (Electoral Tribunal of the Federative Judicial Power—TEPJF) declared July’s presidential contest valid, after runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) questioned the credibility of the election. Having reviewed and analyzed numerous pages of accusations of vote-buying, the court has decided Peña Nieto won, marking the PRI’s return to power after a 12-year hiatus.
TEPJF Justice Pedro Peñagos surmised the tribunal’s decision best: “In a democracy, one vote makes the difference. If Enrique Peña Nieto received an advantage of millions of votes in relation to the candidate that reached second place, then it follows that [Peña Nieto] should be declared the winner.” Peña Nieto received just over 19 million votes, versus 16 million for AMLO.
AMLO rejected the court’s decision: “The elections were not clean, free or genuine.” Memories of 2006 now pester downtown residents in Mexico City—and with reason. Over the weekend, the weakened #YoSoy132 youth movement, along with Mexico’s electricians’ union, marched towards the deputy’s chamber. More marches are expected, to including a demonstration at the iconic Zócalo next weekend.
Notwithstanding, the president-elect is already moving toward setting his legislative agenda. The PRI maintains a plurality in both the deputies and senate chambers, but will need to negotiate with President Felipe Calderón’s Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) and AMLO’s Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) to pass legislation. In the lower house, PRI, PAN and PRD were elected to 207, 114 and 100 seats, respectively; and in the upper house 52 (PRI), 38 (PAN) and 16 (PRD) seats. In both chambers, the PRI counts on old political dogs as party leaders; Deputy Manilo Fabio Beltrones is serving a third non-conescutive term, and previously served as governor of Sonora state. He was president of the senate until last week. Senator Emilio Gamboa has also served as senator, deputy, minister, and deputy minister under two PRI presidents. Both are party men who follow former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson’s famous tactics of squeezing, prodding and logrolling to get legislation passed.
Peña Nieto has promised to send three pieces of legislation to the lower chamber for consideration once he takes office. The first would create an Anti-Corruption Commission within Mexico’s Secretaría de Función Pública (Government Accountability Office), which would be charged with unveiling official acts of corruption. The second piece of legislation will seek to make state and municipal government finances accountable and transparent. Last, Peña Nieto wants to build a quasi-governmental body to watch federal government spending on publicity. Both chambers will have a full 60 days to craft, debate and vote on the initiatives.
All three bills address deficiencies allegedly found during the course of Peña Nieto’s most recent campaign and other candidates running for high state and federal office. Governors and mayors are notorious for using taxpayer funds to support preferred candidates. And candidates seeking higher office are also likely to use public funds for campaign spending. These pieces of legislation are no doubt a way to quiet critics and calm voters who question the legality of the last election and Peña Nieto’s ability to govern a divided and troubled country.
Similarly, Calderón wants to leave a legacy that goes beyond his war on organized crime. Invoking new privileges enumerated under the political reform law passed on August 10, the current president is asking both legislative chambers to debate and pass a labor reform and municipal accountability law. The former will modernize antiquated labor provisions to make hiring and firing more flexible, and bring transparency to the unions. The latter attempts to rein in municipal governments whose financial dealings have become exceedingly opaque after the 2000 alternancia.
The last-minute legislative initiatives will keep President-elect Peña Nieto free from the unsavory task of enraging unions during his first days in office. Regardless, Mexico continues to face a number of challenges. Now that the TEPJF has declared a winner, elected leaders need to roll up their sleeves, engage, then enact meaningful legislation that will deter crime, grow the economy, and improve people’s lives.
Juan Manuel Henao is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is a consultant based in Mexico City and former Mexico Country Director for the International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington DC-based not-for-profit democracy promotion organization.