Tag Archives: Enrique Pena Nieto

Mexico – Legislative Elections and Independent Governors

Last Sunday, amidst allegations of corruption, violence and general animus towards the political classes, Mexico held legislative, mayoral and gubernatorial elections. All 500 seats in the legislature were contested: 300 in single-member districts and 200 by proportional representation. With all votes counted, the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and party of the current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, and its coalition partners, Nueva Alianza (PNA) and the Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), managed to win approximately 40 per cent of the vote and secure more than the 251 seats they previously held between them. The PRI gained 29.25 per cent of the national vote; PVEM won 7.01 per cent; and the PNA managed to garner 3.75 per cent.

For the president, this means he is free to continue his reform agenda with a clear majority in the house.

The result itself is perhaps a little surprising given a recent poll, which indicated that 91 per cent of Mexican citizens had no trust in the country’s political parties, whilst over half of the respondents disapproved of the Peña Nieto government. However, the new majority of the ruling alliance is less a product of their popularity and more a product of divisions within the opposition. In particular, former presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, split from the left-leaning Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) to create a new political party, Morena. Morena’s campaign in this election proved extremely costly for the PRD, who saw their popular support fall by half to only 10.75 per cent of the vote, while Morena garnered an impressive 8.37 per cent. This division within the Mexican left most likely benefited the PRI’s coalition partners, PVEM and PNA.

The elections themselves occurred amidst a backdrop of violence and uncertainty. A coalition of radical teachers’ unions and activists attempted to block and disrupt the vote in the southern states of Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca. They burned ballot boxes and attacked the office of political parties. In the northern city of Monterrey, there were reports of armed men coercing and threatening members of the electorate.

Most significantly however, was the election of Mexico’s first independent governor, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, known as “El Bronco,” who won the gubernatorial race in the state of Nuevo León, which was previously a PRI stronghold. Formerly a member of the PRI and mayor of the northern city of García, Rodríguez is credited with launching a broadside against the Zeta cartel, which saw the death of his son in 2009 in an attempted kidnapping. With the electoral reform of last year, Rodríguez decided to leave the PRI and run as an independent. His victory is interpreted as symptomatic of the general animosity of the Mexican public towards the major and established political parties.

But Rodríguez was not the only independent candidate to be elected. Four other independent candidates managed to gain seats in the lower house, including Pedro Kumamoto, who has never been a member of a political party yet who managed to win a seat in Jalisco. Although the overall election results might suggest continuity, beneath the surface, winds of change are clearly rippling across the Mexican party system.

Latin America – Corruption and the Executive Office II

I have written before about the relationship between corruption and the executive office in Latin America. Across the region, presidents have often been accused and impeached for corruption while occupying the executive office. For example, this year alone, Guatemalan ex-President Alfonso Portillo was sentenced to five years in prison in the US for taking bribes from Taiwan. In April in El Salvador, it was announced that evidence had emerging linking former president Francisco Flores to illegal and hidden bank accounts. Argentine Vice-President, Amado Boudou, appeared in court in June to respond to allegations that he illegally halted bankruptcy proceedings against a company that he supposedly had an interest in.

Explanations for the persistence of corruption in the presidential office in Latin America range from history and the evolution of a permissive political culture across the region to the combination of PR electoral systems and presidentialism.[1] Latin American executives often need to deal with uncooperative legislatures and so at times, corruption can appeal as the easiest way for the executive to pursue their agenda. The prototypical example of this dynamic can be found in the Mensalão scandal in Brazil.

Given this level of corruption in the highest political office, it is no surprise that many Latin American countries languish in the bottom half of Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perception Index.

Now, two new cases of alleged corruption, which are related to the executive office in Latin America, have come to light. The first of these involves the embattled president of Mexico, Enrqiue Peña Nieto. Peña Nieto was already facing huge political pressure over the disappearance of 43 students in Iguala. Now, his wife and former soap star, Angélica Rivera, has become embroiled in a scandal concerning a mansion she purchased in 2012, and Grupo Higa, a government contractor. In November, Higa, as part of a larger consortium, was awarded a US$4 billion contract to construct a high-speed rail project. It has now emerged that Rivera purchased her house form a unit of Higa, and she has yet to hand over a sizable portion of the asking price. Higa still hold the deeds to the house. As a recent news story succinctly put it: “So the first lady’s mansion is owned by a construction company that has bid successfully for government contracts.” The government has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. The story is not going away however. On Friday, the Mexican Finance Minister, Luis Videgaray, was implicated in a similar house buying scandal.

The other scandal is even larger. Petrobras, the Brazilian state energy behemoth, was allegedly used in an elaborate kick-back scheme, where money from inflated contracts was channeled back to the governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT). Thirty-five people, including top executives from Petrobras, have already been charged, and this schandal could have long-lasting and wide-ranging implications for the PT and president Dilma Rousseff. Currently, despite the efforts of the opposition, Dilma has remained above the scandal. She denies any knowledge of the kickback scheme, just as Lula did during the Mensalão scandal. It is expected that this story  will only get bigger.

One thing is for sure however. Corruption in the presidential office in Latin America remains a serious problem.

[1] For example, see For example, some of the chapters in Walter Little and Eduardo Posada-Carbó (eds.) 1996. Political Corruption in Europe and Latin America. Palgrave Macmillan or Jana Kunicová and Susan Rose-Ackerman. 2005. Electoral Rules and Constitutional Structures as Constraints on Corruption. British Journal of Political Science, 35: 573-606.