The PRI Returns to Power in Mexico

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PHOTO SOURCE: WIKICOMMONS
A polling station in Mexico City.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, won Mexico’s presidential election Sunday as many political experts had predicted for months. Enrique Peña Nieto, a telegenic bureaucrat married to a famous soap opera star won with 37 percent of the vote followed by Leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador with 32 percent.

After six years of a protracted and violent drug war, voters signaled their disdain for the ruling party the National Action Party, or PAN, by giving Josefina Vazquez Mota, the party’s candidate just 25 percent of the vote.

Just 12 years ago, the conservative PAN swept into power signaling a new openess in government and democracy after 71 years of PRI rule, sometimes referred to as the “Perfect Dictatorship.” Reporting on Vicente Fox’s win in 2000 I remember most the sense of hope, especially from the younger generation in Mexico that their country would finally be an open and transparent democracy.

Now 12 years later we have the return of the PRI infamous for its authoritarian rule, cronyism and corruption. Enrique Peña Nieto, 45, promises Mexicans that the party has modernized and abandoned its old methods of government rule. “There is no return to the past,” he told the crowd during his acceptance speech. “You have given our party a second chance and we will deliver results.”

But with an estimated 60,000 dead and 30,000 disappeared in Mexico’s burgeoning civil war, spurred by the drug war many Mexicans see the vote for the PRI as an act of desperation. They hope that the PRI will be able to once again co-opt organized crime and bring the level of violence down to a tolerable level as they did before. But many think it’s too late for that and the old power structures have changed too much for the PRI to rein in organized crime. In his speech, Sunday evening Peña Nieto assured Mexicans that the PRI would not concede to the criminals. “There will be no pact nor truce with organized crime,” he said.

In El Paso, Martin Hueremo and his family watched the election results with rapt attention. Last year, they were forced to flee Mexico because of the violence and are now seeking asylum in the United States. Peña Nieto’s win was a disappointment for him, Hueremo told me. “I am extremely sad and scared for my country right now,” he said.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.