Plagued By Scandal, Can Mexico's Pena Implement Reforms?

By Guy Taylor

AS/COA's Christopher Sabatini comments on what's ahead for Mexico's president.​ 

Mexico's once-ultrapopular President Enrique Pena Nieto has become so scandal-plagued that questions are swirling in Washington on whether his government will be capable in 2015 of implementing such groundbreaking reforms as the U.S.-supported and politically delicate privatization of the nation's oil sector.

But the Mexican president, who just nine months ago appeared on the cover of Time magazine accompanied by the headline "Saving Mexico," faces an uphill battle, said Christopher Sabatini, the senior director of policy at the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas in New York.

"It's difficult to see how this plays out," he said, adding where there was once widespread hope that Mr. Pena may be a new face to Mexican politics, developments over the past few months have triggered a "real wellspring of public antipathy toward the Mexican political class" in general.

Mr. Pena effectively won the presidency in 2012 by convincing Mexican voters that he exemplified a 12-year reform of the PRI and that the party had shed its old system of top-down politics and patronage.

The catch, according to Mr. Sabatini, is that many Mexican voters now feel as if they were "seduced by the pretty boy and the new coat of paint on the PRI."

"I think that's why public reaction to the recent allegations of corruption has been so over the top," he said, "because people are thinking, 'Hey, maybe we were just duped by a pretty face.'"

“There have been real reforms over the past two years, and I actually think Pena represents a different PRI from the decades past, but people still believe in that old PRI,” Mr. Sabatini added. “It’s as if they’re waiting to be betrayed by the old PRI.”

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