Publish in Perspectives - Monday, March 4, 2013
President Enrique Peña Nieto's first 100 days have been marked by a great deal of activity and a feeling of high expectation among most Mexicans, experts say. (Photo: Mexican Presidency)
Experts evaluate how well Mexico’s president has performed in his first 100 days.
BY LATIN AMERICA ADVISOR
This month, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto marks 100 days in office. Fiscal and energy reforms that Peña Nieto had been expected to tackle quickly have been put off until later this year, while the president and his party have shifted their immediate focus to reforms in the areas including education and telecommunications. How well has Peña Nieto performed in his first 100 days? Is he focusing the beginning of his presidency on the right goals? Will the 'Pact for Mexico' agreement between the PRI and the two largest opposition parties hold? How might Mexico's local elections this July alter the current course?
Rogelio Ramirez de la O, president of Ecanal in Mexico City: The delay of the tax and energy reform, being the two most important economic reforms, is most unfortunate. It would appear that the government does not appreciate how bad it may be raising high-level business expectations and then not delivering on time. I can appreciate that domestic political and social interests became a higher priority for whatever reason, but it is incomprehensible that at this late stage the government does not put forward its plans for tax and energy reform. On the latter, there are two potential problems. One is whether the government thinks it is possible to achieve a credible reform without changing the Constitution. The other is that within the Pact for Mexico, the PRD has gone much further in defining an energy reform plan, which is contrary to what the government said it wants, that is, to open to private investment. This illustrates how the pact may have helped the government in the short run, but it may also dilute its reforms. Worst of all, within these 100 days the level of violence has not fallen and scandals of corruption and misdemeanors in public entities have not caused any reaction by the government, which has wasted a great opportunity to signal serious change from its PAN predecessors. It is still early and the government may regain the initiative, but so far time has slipped away with no tangible gain, as violence continues at the same high rate, evidence of corruption in government is not followed by quick action and armed community groups have surged as a reminder that Mexicans are not waiting forever for the government to act.
James R. Jones, member of the Advisor board and co-chair of Manatt Jones Global Strategies: President Peña Nieto has excellent political instincts and he understands building momentum to accomplish his political goals. While the anticipated energy and fiscal reforms seem to have been pushed back to the second half of this year, I don't detect any substantive or permanent retreat by the government in pursuing such reforms. Peña Nieto's performance has been impressive so far. Even before taking office, Peña Nieto and the PRI worked with the ruling PAN government to achieve significant, although not complete, reforms to Mexico's labor laws. And this week, Peña Nieto signed into law comprehensive education reforms which are absolutely necessary if Mexico is to be a competitive global economic player in the future. As if to emphasize that he intends to fundamentally reform education, the government arrested and criminally charged the powerful leader of the teachers' union who had been considered the main obstacle to giving Mexico a first-class education system. This also sends a strong signal to other powerful interests not to block other reforms that will be proposed. Next come reforms to the telecommunications and broadcasting sectors as well as transparency reforms to state and local government financing. All of these reforms have popular public support. Such support should help Peña Nieto build further backing in the summer local elections. With all of that political capital banked, every indication is that Peña Nieto will start spending it during the last session of Congress this year to advance the energy and fiscal reforms. If all of this unfolds successfully, Peña Nieto will have moved Mexico forward more progressively than anyone since NAFTA passed and put Mexico on the path to economic and democratic modernity. His next challenge needs to be reforming and strengthening the rule of law.
Andrés Rozental, member of the Advisor board, president of Rozental & Asociados in Mexico City and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution: President Peña Nieto's first 100 days have been marked by a great deal of activity and a feeling of high expectation among most Mexicans. The president's closest team of officials has been working hard on various aspects of his electoral promises and the 95 commitments contained in the 'Pact for Mexico.' The same is true for the PRI leadership in Congress and the 19 state governors that represent the ruling political party. While there appears to be a decision to delay presenting urgent energy and fiscal reform packages to Congress, there is nonetheless a flurry of activity on many other fronts. Education and telecommunications reform are among the highest priorities, but there has also been progress on judicial reform with important changes to the 'amparo' regulations already approved by an overwhelming majority of the lower house of Congress, a renewed push for those jurisdictions to implement oral trials to do so well before the 2015 deadline, a national campaign to fight hunger, a gubernatorial commitment to implement unified state police forces and several high-profile administrative changes that do not need congressional approval. Peña Nieto apparently believes that addressing low-hanging fruit first will make it easier for the more difficult energy and fiscal reforms to be successfully approved in the second half of the year. While the 'Pact for Mexico' has so far been a cohesionary force among the three main political parties, the true test of its strength will come when the administration presents its energy and fiscal reform proposals. Internal divisions in the PAN and PRD might well interfere with the government's ability to hold the various factions together for the two-thirds majority it needs to pass constitutional changes.
Pamela Starr, associate professor of public diplomacy in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California: The most striking change in Mexico during the first 100 days of the Peña Nieto government is the extent to which the presidency has begun to regain some of the power lost during the first 12 years of democratic governance in Mexico. The Pact for Mexico agreement to promote a wide range of pending reforms, including the already approved labor and education reforms, is a reminder of how the Mexican presidency can be used as a fulcrum for political deal-making. Peña Nieto's proposal for managing the debts of state and local governments will return to the federal government a significant degree of fiscal control it had previously abdicated. And the arrest of the previously untouchable president of the teachers' union is a reminder of tools available to the president to punish corrupt union leaders and politicians. What remains unclear is how far Peña Nieto will push this recentralization of power in the presidency and how he intends to use it. If his purpose is simply to re-establish governability in a country plagued by political gridlock and to prevent political powerbrokers and powerful private sector actors from appropriating the national wealth for themselves and undermining the national interest in the process, one can only applaud. From this perspective, Peña Nieto is laying the necessary political groundwork for the more challenging reforms on his presidential to-do list: telecom, fiscal and energy reform. However, the history of Mexico and of the PRI inevitably raises concerns about this process. Will Peña Nieto continue to rebuild presidential authority in order to weaken the separation of powers that is one of the foundations of democracy? Will he use this power only to reign in those veto players who oppose him while leaving his allies untouched? I hope for the former, but cannot help but worry about the latter.
Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: In the first three months of his administration, President Enrique Peña Nieto has shown impressive skills in building a consensus among many of the country's leading political and economic actors, as well as within his own party. Even before he came into office, the president-elect was instrumental in coalescing PRI support behind outgoing President Calderón's labor reform initiative which became law in November. Upon taking office, Peña Nieto immediately launched his initiative for education reform. On Dec. 2, Peña Nieto announced the Pact for Mexico. The importance of the pact lies not in its content but rather in the spirit of inclusion, consensus and collaboration that it embodies. This is proving to be a central feature of the administration's approach to policy and legislation -to construct alliances and to ensure that all major actors are part of the process. Just as impressive has been the ability of the new government to build consensus within the PRI on potentially divisive issues. Last weekend's meeting of PRI leaders produced a commitment to change the party's statutes to allow the government to propose far-reaching changes to the national oil industry and to apply the value-added tax to food and medicine. These are both measures that, if successful, will provide a significant boost to the economy and to government finances. The achievements thus far from the Peña Nieto government demonstrate the government's ability to govern effectively, one of the central campaign messages during last year's election.