Peña Nieto under pressure

The Pact for Mexico is a high price to pay for the PRI's bad election habits

Political clientelism, using social programs to support the candidates from the party in power, is one of the strategies that have kept the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in power for decades. Today, this strategy does not seem compatible with the era of the Pact for Mexico.

There was a time, which is no longer the case, when the president could spurn the opposition, dismissing what is a serious criminal complaint—with proof and videos—as mere political criticism, without paying the price.

These are the realities that President Enrique Peña Nieto has been discovering. Here, what we see is not that the PRI has changed its bad electoral practices, but instead that Mexico will no longer quietly tolerate them.

The recent scandal in Veracruz involves diverting resources from the National Crusade Against Hunger to support PRI candidates in the July 7 election. Peña Nieto’s initial reaction was to defend Social Development Secretary Rosario Robles. The National Action Party (PAN) is calling for both Robles and Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte to be removed from their positions while the issue is under investigation.

In another time, it would have been enough to fire lower-level officials and to defend Robles tooth and nail, as happened now. Today, that is not the case. Both the PAN and the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) reacted by suspending their public appearances in events involving the Pact for Mexico.

The opposition hit where it hurts most. The tri-party agreement over almost 100 bills gives Peña Nieto ammunition to depict himself as a consensus-builder who will change Mexico under a new PRI. This is particularly helpful to advance legislation, since he does not have an absolute majority in Congress.

The opposition wants to hurt the government politically by asking for Robles’ head. The government in turn is trying to dodge the issue by promoting the idea of “shielding” the system to prevent social assistance programs from being used for political gain.

It is hard to believe that this could happen. It is more realistic that Robles will be removed instead of the PRI no longer using electoral clientelism in its strategy. The most important thing is protecting the Pact for Mexico, which today at least creates a framework for governability in a multipartisan reality.