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By Global Public Square staff
Elected leaders around the world are struggling. They're down in the polls, their economies are stagnant, their people are protesting, and their oppositions are betting on their failure. There is, however, one leader who has seemingly bucked that trend – and it's not by jailing his opposition or shutting down the press. He's the president of a free, democratic, capitalist country. Is this person Superman?
I'm talking about the young and highly successful president of Mexico: Enrique Peña Nieto. Just compare him with our president.
Obama's approval ratings recently hit their lowest since 2011 – 45 percent. Seven months into the job, Peña Nieto is sitting pretty at 57 percent. And it's not just average Mexicans who have given their president an extended honeymoon…the opposition has, as well. Two major rival parties joined Peña Nieto to form what they called a "Pact for Mexico." Together, they put through a groundbreaking set of reforms in labor, education, telecoms, and TV.
Just this week, the government announced an infrastructure deal worth $316 billion to build roads and railways. Imagine that happening in Washington, where we spend months deciding whether or not we should have filibusters! Drug-related homicides are down in Mexico 18 percent during Peña Nieto's term. This week, local authorities brought down the leader of the deadly Zeta cartel.
It's been an extraordinary start to a presidency. And it comes at a time when experts are hailing Mexico's rise. The New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says that Mexico could be one of the 21st century's big economic successes. Of course on Global Public Square, we have been championing Mexico's prospects for the last two years.
And yet, there are signs emerging that – perhaps – Peña Nieto's honeymoon is coming to an end.
It all goes back to that "Pact for Mexico" mentioned earlier – a cross-party alliance to push through much-needed reforms. It seemed to work across a number of industries. But now it faces a hurdle: energy. One company has a complete monopoly over Mexico's oil and gas – the state-owned Pemex. In fact, its hold over drilling is actually enshrined in Mexico's constitution. But Pemex, like many state-owned behemoths, is an ailing, failed enterprise. Its production is below-par, it literally fuels corruption. And therein lies the problem – any attempt to reform this sector is being rejected not only by the opposition parties, but also by factions within Peña Nieto's own party.
Pressures are building on the "Pact for Mexico." Local elections turned sour last week amid allegations of corruption. There were violent clashes, with the opposition parties threatening to abandon the alliance altogether.
The irony is that perhaps Peña Nieto is a victim of his own success. Democracy is catching up with him. The opposition wants to be an opposition. Now, it would be a real tragedy if the president's reform plans fall apart – we all know they make economic sense. But this is how politics works: there are competing interests, there are oppositions. In democracy, not everyone wants to pull in the same direction.
So, it's honeymoon over, and back to reality. Maybe Pena Nieto should come up north and the U.S. could explain to him how to live in a world of polarization, paralysis, and gridlock.