Mexico President-elect Peña Nieto's win is weaker than expected

July 6, 2012 by
Categories: Mexico

By Tracy Wilkinson and Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party is marching back into the presidential palace bolstered by its control of a raft of state governorships and a good standing in Congress.

Enrique Peña NietoBut its mandate is much shakier than the party had predicted before Sunday's election, reflecting the nagging suspicions with which many Mexicans regard the PRI and complicating President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto's ability to execute an ambitious reform program.

He will have to negotiate with rival parties, including a newly empowered left, and will not have the free hand he might have expected as he pursues initiatives such as opening up the massive state oil company, Pemex, to foreign investment. Resistance from the opposition, as well as the old guard of his party and the unions that backed him, could block reforms and condemn Mexico to status quo and economic malaise.

PHOTOS: Mexico election

"His mandate is clearly weaker than expected," said Carlos Ramirez, a Mexico analyst for the New York-based Eurasia Group.

"He will be in a tough spot. The view inside the party was that they were going to win by a landslide.... Peña will have to choose his battles because he's likely to encounter resistance from within his coalition."

Peña Nieto will be handcuffed to some degree by the wariness with which voters viewed handing power back to his party, whose 70-year rule was characterized by rampant corruption and authoritarian practices. Despite his victory, 3 in 5 voters cast ballots for other parties.

"It would be in the PRI's interest to read this victory with humility, that they won despite their limitations," said Jesus Silva-Herzog Marquez, a columnist with the newspaper Reforma. "The PRI is obliged now to show it can govern democratically. It must admit that the sources of this deep, stubborn lack of confidence are, in the end, healthy and necessary."

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