Enrique Peña Nieto’s win in Mexico’s presidential polls marks the return of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which enjoyed seven decades of power until 2000. Breaking the stranglehold of the drug mafia and crime syndicates which are said to have claimed as many as 60,000 lives in recent years would be among the most formidable challenges facing Mr. Peña Nieto, who will take charge only in December. In a hotly debated campaign, the outgoing conservative party, PAN, was not in the reckoning, largely due to President Felipe Calderón’s track record on tackling crime and his failure to enact economic, energy and education reforms. On the other hand, second-time contestant Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the leftist Party of Democratic Revolution merely managed to narrow the lead Mr. Peña Nieto enjoyed earlier in the opinion polls. The campaign acquired immense momentum over the past few months also on account of the surge in popularity of the pro-democracy student-led Yo Soy 132 movement. The PRI’s controversial nexus with a prominent media group lent the poll process additional sting. The pervasive resort to violence and intimidation during previous polls led Mexico’s election authority this time to seek a commitment from political parties to honour the popular verdict and to denounce violence during the electoral process.
Despite the return of the ‘old guard’ that the PRI represents, multi-party democracy in Mexico is here to stay. Presented as the PRI’s new face during the election campaign, Mr. Peña Nieto, governor of the State of Mexico until last year, knows only too well the reasons his country has been punching below its economic weight in the region. The introduction of growth inducing measures might well be the answer to the gross inequalities which are a fact of life in the country. The incoming President would draw much comfort and courage from the fact that his country weathered the aftermath of the 2008 global financial and economic crisis better than its mighty northern neighbour, the United States, even as it was battling the H1N1 flu pandemic. Mr. Peña Nieto’s ultimate triumph, however, would be winning the war on drugs that his predecessor never really waged. But this will require greater cooperation and sensitivity on the part of the U.S., where the lack of control on deadly assault weapons, not to speak of the demand for drugs, fuels the violence that has exacted such a heavy toll on ordinary Mexicans from all walks of life.