Enrique Pena Nieto caricature 2012
July 4, 2012 - Mexico’s new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has spearheaded a remarkable comeback for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, his election victory returning to power the party that dominated national politics for 71 years before being ousted in 2000.
Mexico's new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has made few stumbles on his path to Los Pinos. The smooth-faced governor has convincingly presented himself as very different to the reptilian types who led the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in the past -- but the country will hardly need reminding that the "dinosaurios" are not yet extinct.
Pena Nieto, 45, has spearheaded a remarkable comeback for the PRI: his election victory returns to power the party that had dominated national politics for 71 years before being ousted in 2000. He has promised no "return to the past" -- an era in which the PRI became synonymous with cronyism, corruption and undermining democracy. Instead, he says, his government will rule "with all and for all", introducing "a new style of governing".
Many Mexicans are waiting to see just how closely he is tied to the old party that nurtured him as the face of a new generation. Born on July 20, 1966 in Altacomulco, Pena Nieto studied business before following his relative Arturo Montiel, then governor of the state of Mexico, into politics. By 2005 he himself was governor, a role in which he won a reputation for sticking to pledges on improving public services and infrastructure. He has promised more of the same as president, as well as far-reaching tax reform.
After the PRI lost badly in presidential polls in 2006, the party stepped up its search for a candidate who could turn around its fortunes. Pena Nieto's good looks and charisma led him to be dubbed Mexico's JFK. Reports that he was also a ladies' man -- he admitted fathering two children outside his first marriage -- did not dent his popularity nor did suspicions that he is a "lightweight" with no idea about the price of a tortilla. His second marriage to soap star Angelica Rivera won him fans as half of a glamour couple.
More seriously, though, Pena Nieto recently faced accusations that a secret unit was set up inside the leading television network Televisa to degrade his rivals, and many are wary of his links with the Altacomulco group of old guard PRI politicos. The YoSoy132 student movement is unlikely to stop campaigning against the PRI's return to power.
There is no doubt that Pena Nieto benefited from the failure of his predecessor Felipe Calderon to curb a drugs war that has claimed more than 50,000 lives. The U.S. will be monitoring his vow to tackle the violence without doing deals with the drug cartels. The president must also try to improve the situation of 12 million Mexicans who live in extreme poverty, as well as to restore his country's battered reputation abroad. If he fails, the PRI's golden boy may find himself wishing he had not been plucked from obscurity.