Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto had much to celebrate during the New Year festivities. Few modern Mexican presidents can claim to have championed as many deep reforms and succeeded. Of the dozen reform bills Peña Nieto pushed through Congress, five required amendments to the constitution. To put this feat in perspective, Peña Nieto accomplished more in his first year in office than his three most recent predecessors combined.
If 2013 was a banner year for Peña Nieto, 2014 promises to be harder fought. Implementing last years reformsand cementing his transformative legacywill require steering a very large and complex raft of secondary and regulatory laws through the legislature in a short period of time. There is a good chance he can do it, the question is in what form. If Peña Nietos reform agenda is going to reshape the Mexican economy, it will do so through the devilish details of these secondary bills. It is a path fraught with pitfalls, and haste could very well make waste.
The coming legislative process promises to be incredibly tedious as Congress attempts to define the governmental structures, roles, responsibilities, and regulatory frameworks necessary to carry out each reform. The committees charged with reviewing the different legislative proposals have already turned into bottlenecks, and this process is likely to be further muddled by intense pressure from lobbyists. It would not be surprising to see hurried committees produce bills with contradictory provisions that will ultimately land the new laws in court.
Adding to the challenge is an increasingly contentious political climate. Peña Nieto benefited greatly last year from the Pact for Mexico, a cross-party negotiation table that helped steer the structural reform agenda through Congress. This year he will not. As expected, the Pacto broke down during tense negotiations over energy reform. In the aftermath, the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) has adopted hard-line opposition to energy reforms. This is partly a political hedge; sacrificing influence in congressional debates in an attempt to stave off an electoral challenge from the radical left Morena party and its leader (and former PRD presidential candidate) Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has organized street protests in opposition to the energy reforms. Peña Nietos Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) already has the votes it needs to pass enabling legislation in the lower house of Congress, and it only needs to win a few votes from the National Action Party (PAN) to clear the Senate. This might seem like an enviable situation, but the weak opposition threatens to make PRI legislators less disciplined. Party leaders will have to be extra careful in balancing the myriad, competing interests that coexist in their own caucus.
The new legislative term begins in February, and the PRIs priorities are secondary legislation to implement energy and telecoms reform. The telecoms statutes are already two months overdue, and similar sluggishness can expected throughout the term. This is not insignificant. The political clock has started ticking for Peña Nieto, and unless the Mexican economy kicks into high gear this year, PRI stands to lose seats in Congress in the 2015 midterm elections. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how many of the presidents promises the party can fulfil.
By: Dwight Dyer – www.forbes.com
Dwight Dyer is a senior analyst at Control Risks, an international political, integrity and security risk consultancy.