Mexico’s presidential handover
The waiting game
The perils of a five-month transition
Aug 18th 2012 | MEXICO CITY | from the print edition
One is a news vacuum. This has given undeserved coverage to Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the left-wing candidate who claimed fraud after his narrow defeat in the 2006 election and has done so again after losing by 6.6% this year. He has filed a 638-page dossier alleging cheating by the PRI. The evidence it contains is thin—and surprise, surprise, he is not challenging the election for Congress in which his party did well. But until the electoral tribunal rules on his complaint—it must do so by September 6th—the handover cannot formally begin.
Mr López Obrador has so far not tried to stage the sustained street protests that he mounted in 2006. Nor will he able to disrupt the inauguration as he did then. A new law allows the president to take the oath of office elsewhere if the Congress is besieged. But Mr Peña has had to make some concessions in the face of opposition claims that he bought favourable television coverage and that some in the PRI are beset by graft. On August 9th the PRI announced that its priority in the new Congress, which starts on September 1st, would be a bundle of rather flimsy-looking measures to fight corruption and make the government’s dealings with the media more transparent.
This will delay more pressing reforms to tax, energy, the labour market and social security, all of which are vital if Mexico is to grow at the 6% that Mr Peña has promised. His aides say there will be progress on these bigger reforms before December. But that requires help from the opposition, since the PRI failed to win a majority in either house of Congress. The party will doubtless try to reach agreement with the National Action Party (PAN) of Felipe Calderón, the outgoing president, which has a similar economic platform to its own.
But the PAN is in a state of civil war following its humiliation in the presidential election, in which it came third for the first time since 1988. Gustavo Madero, the party’s president, is fighting with Mr Calderón for control. Ernesto Cordero, a Calderón loyalist, will lead the PAN in the Senate, whereas in the lower house that role will go to Luis Alberto Villarreal, who is closer to Mr Madero.
Some PRI strategists think the PAN will be more helpful if Mr Calderón’s faction prevails. The outgoing president has reasons to be on good terms with the new one: his war on organised crime has left him with a price on his head and in need of protection when he leaves office. Formerly allergic to the PRI, he now says he will co-operate with them to pass reforms. By contrast Mr Villarreal says he will not give “blank cheques” to anyone in Congress.
Political reform could be the price of the PAN’s co-operation on economic matters. Innovations such as consecutive re-election of congressmen and mayors, or a run-off in presidential elections, are not to Mr Peña’s taste, but they would be good for Mexico’s democracy. So would a shorter transition period.