Mexican elections: Statements (The Economist)

By Luis Videgaray Caso , published in The Economist

General coordinator of the presidential campaign of Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI)

Mexico will be better off with the PRI because its candidate, Mr Peña, will be a president with historical clarity and vision for the future, with the pragmatism and capacity to lead an effective government.

Against the motion

Roberto Gil Zuarth 

Head of the presidential election campaign of Josefina Vázquez Mota (PAN)

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will not win the forthcoming elections because its return to government would be a grave setback for Mexico.

The moderator’s opening remarks

Tom Wainwright 

Mexicans of all political stripes agreed that the election of 2000 was a landmark in the country’s history. For the first time in more than 70 years, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) conceded defeat in a presidential election. Since then, the right-leaning National Action Party (PAN) has occupied the presidential palace of Los Pinos, first under Vicente Fox and, since 2006, under Felipe Calderón, whose term expires in December.

Mexicans are now gearing up for another election, and it looks as though the PRI may be on its way back to power. Its candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, is predicted by most opinion polls to win more than 40% of the vote on July 1st, which would bring the PRI back into Los Pinos and, perhaps, give them a majority in Congress, which is to be elected at the same time. His main rivals, Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), insist that there is still time for an upset.

What would the return of the PRI mean for Mexico? Mr Peña promises to bring “government that delivers”, a slogan that he used when governor of Mexico state, the country’s most populous. Luis Videgaray Caso, who is head of Mr Peña’s campaign, opens our debate by arguing that under a PRI presidency the same style of government would be applied to the rest of the country, bringing economic growth, peace and a stronger role in world affairs. Top of the list of proposals is to bring more private investment to Pemex, the state-run oil monopoly, whose output has been falling thanks to chronic underinvestment. Reforms to labour, social security and education would come next, along with a security revamp to stem the tide of violence linked to organised crime.

Opposing the motion, Roberto Gil Zuarth, head of the presidential campaign of Ms Vázquez of the ruling PAN, pulls no punches in attacking what he sees as the big risk of a PRI government: corruption and misrule. He names a series of high-ranking PRI politicians who have been accused of graft (some have been convicted; others deny wrongdoing). And he highlights the links between the PRI and some of the business groups and unions that have stood in the way of the reforms that Mexico needs.

Interestingly, our debaters agree on one thing: the PRI has a close relationship with many of Mexico’s powerful interest groups. For Mr Videgaray, these “channels of communication and negotiation” mean that the PRI is in “a privileged position to consolidate the great transformations that Mexico needs”. For Mr Gil, it means quite the opposite: the “corporate”, “medieval” way of doing business with unions and business leaders means that such powerful groups will block reforms that would harm their interests. This question—of whether the PRI would command the country’s movers and shakers, or vice-versa—is a central one in analysing what a victory for Mr Peña would mean.

Elsewhere, our debaters sharply criticise each other’s records. But readers entering the debate may wonder if some of the arguments we have heard so far can be applied both ways. Mr Videgaray says, correctly, that Mexico urgently needs reforms in energy, employment and so on. But in many cases the current government has put forward such ideas only to see them blocked in Congress by the PRI itself. Is it really the party of reform?

Similarly, Mr Gil rips into the corruption evident in some states run by the PRI. But the PAN is not blameless in this area. As for cosying up to special interests, Mr Gil criticises the PRI for its friendly relationship with Elba Esther Gordillo, the leader of the teachers’ union. But the PAN partly owes its own victory in 2006 to an alliance with Ms Gordillo. In office, has it adopted some of the vices that it criticises in the old ruling party?

Our debaters will have the chance to hit back in their rebuttal speeches in a few days’ time. We will also be hearing from two guest speakers, including a representative of Mr López Obrador’s campaign, which has recently been gaining momentum—indeed, polls have begun to show him narrowly in second place, behind Mr Peña. A lot could change before July 1st. In the meantime, Mexicans and foreigners alike can vote online in our debate.

The proposer’s opening remarks

Luis Videgaray Caso 

Mexico will be better off with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for three reasons. First, Enrique Peña Nieto has historical clarity of the moment in which Mexico is living, and a strategic vision of the transformations that must be made for it to be a successful country in the democratic and global context of the 21st century. Second, Mr Peña is a pragmatic politician who knows how to deliver results. As governor of Mexico state, he demonstrated an enormous capacity for effective government. Third, the PRI is a party that has political capacity, social strength and territorial presence, all of which are necessary to consolidate the modernisation of the country.

To begin with, Mr Peña understands that the transition to electoral democracy has not been enough to construct a democracy of results. In the past decade, under the governments of the National Action Party (PAN), Mexico had the worst economic growth for 80 years (1.7% per year, on average). During the current six-year presidential term alone, the murder rate doubled and more than 12m Mexicans fell into poverty.

Mr Peña is clear about the need to begin a deep process of reform to construct what he has called an “effective state”, capable of achieving three great national objectives: that the rights of all Mexicans be not just ideals expressed in the constitution, but an everyday reality for all; that the country grow at its true economic potential; and that Mexico regain its leadership as an emerging power.

First in this process are: energy reform, so that Pemex, without losing its state ownership, may permit greater investment of private capital in order to continue being a driver of national development; labour reform, to increase flexibility without harming the employment rights of workers; reform of social security to make it a universal right and not just a privilege for 40% of the population; education reform, to improve the quality of teaching and help to bring Mexico into the knowledge society; security reform, to reduce the wave of violence that has battered the country; and justice reform, to combat impunity.

Second, Mr Peña has a proven capacity to govern. He was head of Mexico state, the most populous in the country with 15m inhabitants (a figure close to the population of Chile). During his administration he led a team with experience, youth and the professionalism to make things happen, which today is essential to get Mexico out of the paralysis in which it finds itself.

As governor, he reduced the state’s debt by more than 25% and doubled its income without needing to increase taxes. This resulted in an enormous increase in social programmes: between 2005 and 2011, investment in such programmes multiplied by 12, growing from Ps285m ($20m) to Ps3.5 billion, while the number of beneficiaries grew from 35,000 to more than 2m people, a nearly 60-fold increase.

Furthermore, the restructuring of the state’s public finances permitted it to finance the more than 600 “commitments” that have characterised Mr Peña as effective and a man of his word. As a gubernatorial candidate, he modernised politics. He listened to the problems and the specific proposals of the people and established concrete commitments to attend to their demands, which he signed before a notary. As governor, he delivered each of them. In the same way, during his administration Mexico state was a pioneer in consolidating the new accusatory, oral system of criminal justice, which today operates in only five of the country’s 32 federal entities.

Third, the PRI, in contrast to the other two big political parties, is a centrist option, which avoids polarisation and has always promoted the inclusion of different sectors of the population. It is a party that has been reforming itself, and that has learned to compete, to win elections, to recognise defeats and to govern in a democratic context. Furthermore, it maintains a presence that permits it to cover the entire country. It also has solid channels of communication and, consequently, negotiation with the country’s main economic, political and social actors, granting it a privileged position to consolidate the great transformations that Mexico needs.

In short, Mexico will be better off with the PRI because its candidate, Mr Peña, will be a president with historical clarity and vision for the future, with the pragmatism and capacity to lead an effective government; and because the PRI has the territorial, social and political support necessary to transform Mexico. The country has to make radical changes, even if they affect established interests. Mr Peña is clear about this, and knows how to do it.

The opposition’s opening remarks

Roberto Gil Zuarth 

The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) will not win the forthcoming elections because its return to government would be a grave setback for Mexico. It is the party that governed during most of the 20th century under an authoritarian regime. Not only did it hold the presidency in all the elections that took place after 1929, it also set up a machinery to secure for itself all the elections for governor (until 1989), all the elections for senator (until 1998) and more than 95% of the elections for federal and local deputies and mayors.

The political regime of the PRI was not only authoritarian but also corporate. Workers were grouped into unions constructed from above, as were rural labourers via a system of assemblies. Something similar happened with the business community through chambers of commerce. It was a reconstruction of medieval structures in the 20th century, which Mussolini had begun and many countries tried to do from 1930 onwards. Of all of these, Mexico’s is the one that has lasted longest.

Evidently authoritarian regimes in which there is no rule of law are prone to corruption, and corruption in Mexico is legendary. The country’s rules were not made to be obeyed, but to be used when it was necessary: to get rid of a political enemy, or to obtain some sort of pay-off. It is difficult to find a descendant of a president or a governor who has to work for a living. All left their posts with riches of unbelievable proportions for politicians in a democratic country.

The democratic transition begun in 2000 brought a structural change. For the first time, the president of Mexico has had to obey the law. However, the PRI captured a new bastion of power, replicating its authoritarian model in two groups of political actors.

The first group comprises governors, who act now as presidents did before, only limited to their states. They control the local congress, the courts, the electoral authorities, the bodies monitoring transparency and human rights, and even the local media. The lack of any counterweight to the governors and the tradition of corruption had serious consequences. There isn’t space here to list the suspect PRI governors, some of whom have already been processed by the justice system. The most recent is Tomas Yarrington, a former governor of Tamaulipas, accused in civil proceedings in the United States of receiving bribes from drug traffickers. (He denies wrongdoing.) Another recent case is Humberto Moreira, a former governor of Coahuila, who is under investigation after running up a debt for his state of Ps34 billion ($2.4 billion). His ex-treasurer is wanted in the United States for money-laundering. Mr Moreira was president of the PRI in 2011 and anointed Enrique Peña Nieto as the presidential candidate.

To these known cases can be added a big group of former and current governors who are suspected of links with organised crime and illicit enrichment. One of the first cases that came to public attention was that of Mario Villanueva Madrid, governor of the state of Quintana Roo between 1993 and 1999, and now in prison for his complicity in drug trafficking. Mr Villanueva was finance secretary under the current president of the PRI, Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, who supported his bid for the governorship which, it is now known, he used as his personal source of loot. The ties between the current president of the PRI and this kind of criminal is just one example among many that can be found in this party.

The second group comprises corporate actors: leaders of unions and rural movements, and businessmen with market power. Among the first, practically all directly support the PRI candidate, or are hoping to receive the traditional recompense of a place in the Chamber of Deputies or the Senate on July 1st. One that stands out is the leader-for-life of the teachers’ union, Elba Esther Gordillo, who in the past few weeks has decided to do away with teacher evaluations, indispensable in transforming education in Mexico. There is also the leader of the oil-workers’ union, Carlos Romero Deschamps, who is a candidate for the Senate, and who has recently become known for the more-than-comfortable lifestyle of his daughter, which includes such luxuries as trips in private planes for her and her pets.

The possibility that the worst elements of the PRI return to power in Mexico brings with it the risk that these groups not only maintain the privileges that were created during the 20th century, but also seek to increase them even more. Mr Peña has decided to represent them.

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