Enrique Peña Nieto: A year of mixed results

By Claire McNear, on 19 December 2013

By Laetitia Sanchez Incera

As he first took office on 2 July 2012, Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN) committed himself to modernising the country. “We need to create a new free-market economy, with a more social understanding,” he declared at his inauguration address. “It will be an economy that will create jobs and better redistribute wealth, and it will fight the poverty and inequality that still prevail in the life of millions of Mexicans.”

Peña Nieto is the leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a party that ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. At the time of his election, many voters decided to trust a party that had longstanding experience in dealing with the complexities of Mexican politics. Yet many are wary about the intentions of a party that has never ruled in a pluralist democratic regime.

So far, developments in Mexico have not reflected EPN’s promises. Economic analysts have established that Mexico would need to grow by 7% over several years in order to overcome its institutionalised flaws, meet the needs of the 11th most populous country in the world and effectively address issues of inequality, poverty and security. However, Mexico’s economy has not been meeting these targets. The country nearly fell into recession this year and the Bank of Mexico estimates that the economy will not grow more than 1.3% next year.

Mexico’s economic struggles are directly linked to social issues in the nation. The Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) recently published alarming numbers, as Mexico is the only country in Latin America where poverty has increased over 2012. Poverty increased from 36.3% of the population in 2010 to 37.1% today, while extreme poverty has grown to encompass 14.2% of Mexicans. That makes a million additional poor people in the country. In addition to chronic poverty, Peña Nieto has struggled in his efforts to resolve the conflict with the drug cartels. The drug war rages on and has left thousands of people dead. EPN’s first year in office, then, has been marked by a series of failures.

However, the persistence of these issues should not rest solely on the new president’s shoulders. EPN committed his six-year term to solving economic and social issues that have prevailed throughout Mexico’s recent history. His ambitious reform agenda aims at “recuperating the road of peace, security, economic growth.” This agenda has been put into practice and large bodies of reforms have been passed in Congress on issues ranging from education to fiscal laws. This is an indication that EPN has his eye on the future: while living standard improvements have faltered in Mexico this year, EPN will rely on these reforms as well as others still to come in finance and telecommunications matters to improve the country’s situation.

In the meantime, the failures of Enrique Peña Nieto’s first year in office have resulted in high levels of scepticism among the Mexican population. According to a survey conducted by Latinobarometro in 2013, large sections of population cast doubts on the efficacy of democracy as a political regime. In 1995, 49% of them believed in democracy, while today this number has plummeted to 37%. In the face of this lack of faith in democracy, Enrique Peña Nieto will have to work twice as hard to prove them wrong, and his reforms will have to be more than written commitments to change.