Editorials | May 2007
|President Felipe Calderon and the PRI in Mexico|
Allan Wall - PVNN
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has now completed his first five months in office, and it’s been anything but a vacation. The new president, who promised to fight crime and poverty and create jobs, has had to deal with the drug cartels, Oaxaca, rising tortilla prices, a growing debate over values (abortion and gay civil unions) and a host of other issues. As nobody can deny, the challenges Calderon and Mexico face are enormous.
|Mexico's President Felipe Calderon stands guard in front of the monument that commemorates the victory of the Mexican forces over the French occupational forces in the 1862 Battle of Puebla in the city of Puebla, Mexico, Saturday.|
So how is he doing so far?
It’s too early to give a definitive answer, but he has shown resolve, leadership and savvy political skills. Calderon was able to push through the controversial ISSSTE (State Workers’ Social Security and Services Institute) pensions reform bill for government employees. It is to be hoped that this reform was only a harbinger of more substantive reforms in the future.
The Mexican CIDE (Center for Economic Research and Instruction) has just released a grade card, as it were, on Calderon’s performance. Specifically, the CIDE report evaluates how well Calderon is doing in dealing with Congress.
According to the CIDE’s Diego Diaz, “President Calderon has been very successful in the promotion of his initiatives, during five months in office he has submitted 11 (to Congress,) of which six have been approved and the others are under analysis.”
Diaz also pointed out that, on average, each successful Calderon initiative only had to wait 32 days (and that’s total days, not working days) to be approved by Congress.
The ability of an executive to work with Congress is key in achieving results in a divided government. For an historical example from north of the border, consider the late Ronald Reagan, U.S. president from 1981-1989. Reagan, a Republican who had been a rebel in his own party, faced a hostile media and a divided Congress. The Senate was controlled by his own party and the House by the Democrats. Yet Reagan and the Republicans were able to get legislation through by making common cause with conservative Democrats in the House. The Reagan presidency showed that it could be done.
Such political skills are useful for a Mexican president as well, especially in this time of political transition.
Mexico’s politics have changed dramatically in the past few decades. In the old days of a one party-state, the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) was firmly in charge. The President ruled and the Congress was a rubber stamp. That changed gradually, as little by little opposition parties gained power. In 1997, the PRI party lost its majority in Congress.
In 2000, the PAN (National Action Party) under Vicente Fox took control of the presidency for the first time. After the euphoria of victory and the new presidency, though, the executive-legislative relations were less than stellar. Fox seemed unable, unwilling, or unsure how to negotiate with Congress in the real-life horse trading that goes on in real political negotiations.
Now, Felipe Calderon is doing better, probably due to a combination of factors. Calderon has more experience with the Mexican Congress, having served there himself. Another advantage is the new administration has possession of a better correlation of forces in the Congress.
No party has a majority in either house of the Mexican Congress. Nevertheless, if Calderon plays his cards right he may have a working majority. That depends also on the former ruling party, the PRI, the new kingmaker in the Congress.
In the Chamber of Deputies (the Mexican equivalent to the U.S. House of Representatives), the PRI is the third largest party (after the PAN; and the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD). In the Senate it is the second largest (after the PAN.)
This means that the congressional PRI is well-situated to negotiate with either the PAN or the PRD. Therefore the PRI has positioned itself within the middle of the parties, and could support either party depending on the issue at hand.
For example, the PRI sided with the PRD on the issue of pensions for the elderly, and on the ISSSTE pension reform the PRI voted with the PAN.
This indicates that, with good political leadership, a divided congress could become an asset and not a liability.
Hopefully, President Calderon, and congressional leaders, will exhibit the skills necessary to bring about substantive reform for the good of Mexico.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at AllanWall.net.
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